Does Content Matter?

by Amy Middleton

What convinces a reader to pick up a book? As writers, we are told that the opening line, in particular, is meant to pull them in and hopefully convince them to stay for a while. Being that it is the first thing any reader would read, it seems obvious that the opening line is the answer, but if you ask a graphic designer, you would probably get a very different answer. As both a writer and a designer, I am, of course, often in a stalemate when it comes to this question. The designer says that without a beautiful cover no one will even be willing to read the actual words. The writer says that if the words are beautiful even poor design wouldn’t dissuade a reader.

So what exactly is poor design? This might seem an intimidating question for people with little formal knowledge of graphic design practices, but really we all know poor design when we see it. In the example below, “Citilife St.Petersburg,” anyone can see that the cover is unreadable and overwhelming. The title of the magazine, for example, uses three different typefaces against a background of bright yellow and red, making the words even more difficult to read. The words of the heading are also distorted, or stretched. While it’s possible to distort words and use different types or bright colors on their own, the text is visually overwhelming when these elements are piled on top of one another. It is an essential skill of a graphic designer to know when a little bit of funky design crosses the line.

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In the example “Billboard,” we can see how a good designer pays attention to where they employ different typefaces and distortions. Using a large, distinct typeface for the title of the magazine ensures it’s recognizable and readable. Variations in typeface are used for creating categories of subtitles and pull quotes, conveying a hierarchy of information. Distortion is used not to make the words on the page look any different from their original typeface, but to work with the cover photo. Just by that slight tilt, the words are cleanly working with the photo to create a more alluring and interesting design than if they were straight.

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Subtle and clean cover design doesn’t mean boring, as many people worry. It is simply a good practice for readability. A good designer knows how to create a cover that is both interesting and polished, the perfect balance to convince a reader to actually pick up the book and open to the first page.

When it comes to enticing a reader to pick up a book or magazine, we will always judge it by its cover. Unless a reader is looking for a specific writer, the cover has to be visually interesting enough to get the reader’s attention. Obviously, content does matter, but good design is what inspires a reader browsing in the bookstore to pick up a book in the first place. There is no opening line good enough to convince a reader to read without a well designed cover because they need to open the book first.

Mapping Your Way to Complex Characters

By Cerissa DiValentino

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The disorienting feeling you experience after finishing a novel wherein the characters feel like someone you know in real life demonstrates the power complex characters have over our emotions. As writers, we aim to immerse our readers so completely into the world we’ve created that they’re hesitant to leave it. Most importantly, we want our readers to feel an emotional bond to our characters because it means we did our job right. Written effectively, complex characters have the ability to sustain narrative urgency and continue to impress upon the reader long after they’ve finished the book.

To that end, the best plots are character-driven, and it’s through the tension between a character’s desires and their internal and external obstacles that the reader latches onto the story, aiming to figure out how this character is going to obtain what they so badly want. The reader loves to root for the underdog rather than the perfect cheerleader who has won Prom Queen three years in a row. Readers empathize with flawed characters living outside the limelight in hopes that eventually, through struggle, they’ll achieve their desires and shine.

As a helpful tool in crafting complex characters, I suggest character mapping. Start by looking at your central character and asking the question: what is it that my character really wants? After you have come up with an answer, ask yourself: what are the obstacles in my character’s path (both internal and external). Next: what are some ways my character can achieve their desires despite these obstacles? Once you have an outline of what your character desires, what obstacles they face and how they are going to persevere, you already have a plot in the making and you’re ready to start writing.

For example, in Courtney Maum’s Costalegre, the novel follows Lara, a fifteen-year-old girl who is constantly neglected by her mother, but deeply desires to be cherished by her. Lara is a developing artist living on the island of Costalegre with a group of outcast artists her mother has rescued from Europe at the start of Hitler’s regime. Throughout the novel, it’s obvious to the reader that Lara wants her mother to appreciate her artwork as she does the work of the artists she has rescued. Lara’s perseverance to become a skilled artist, thinking that her mother might pay her more attention if she is more talented, breaks my heart and makes me feel closer to her. As the reader, I am instantly drawn to Lara’s inner conflict and feel her desire for motherly love as if it is my own. As the character who is dismissed by others throughout the novel, she becomes the reader’s entire focus because we wish for her to achieve her desires as much as she does.

People are constantly searching for something that will make them feel more alive, more aware, or in other words, simply more human. We fall in love with characters that emulate all human behavior, including flaws. Characters that desire more than what they have and go against the general grain of society to achieve it, make us root for them. When Lara takes off on a horse despite the oncoming storm because she wants to prove to the adult artists that she has her own agency, we are rooting for her with our fists high in the air. If your characters are as multifaceted as you are human, the reader will find those characters more enticing than any typical, popular cheerleader.

Writing 101 for Struggling College Students

By Savannah Lopez

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Have you ever compared yourself to your peers and felt discouraged?  Do you sometimes find it hard to stay inspired? It’s okay, we’ve all been there.

I’ve been in college for almost six years and it wasn’t until 2017 when I realized I wanted to become a creative writing major.  I transferred to Purchase College in 2018 and commuting back and forth makes me feel behind. There’s times my peers would want to host a workshop outside of class and I can’t attend because I live over an hour away.  Or, me not being able to meet with the Writers Club because they meet late during the week. These are opportunities to improve my writing, and I have to miss out.

There are also times I read my peers work and think, damn this is so poetic, how can I compete with this?  I would also sit in class listening to discussions about authors like Jane Austen and Toni Morrison (at the time I had no clue who these legends were) and I would awkwardly smile and shake my head up and down like Wow I’m so lost.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged it can be hard to get that confidence and inspiration back, but not impossible.  Here are some tips on how to fix that:

 

  • Never compare.  We’re human, so we’re bound to have thoughts of not being as good as someone else but it’s crucial to remember that in five years, that person will be long gone, doing his or her own thing.  Realizing this has helped me gained confidence in my writing. Your dedication and performance determines how far you go in life, not your peers. How far will you push yourself to succeed? I’ve had to ask myself, Savannah are you going to watch another episode of Friends or start brainstorming ideas for your short story?  As a result, I’ve saved myself a lot of stress by starting my work early and getting it out of the way.  If you leave it for the last minute, the pressure of getting your work done will increase the chances of mistakes and submitting poor work.
  •  Keep a planner handy and start using sticky notes.  Having your life together will make you feel in control. Use a planner to jot down ideas, to-do lists, and assignments. I place sticky notes around my room to give myself reminders about a meeting I have or even something positive like, “You are worthy and resilient.” I also plan my week out in my planner so I know exactly what I have to do each day.  Writing is not something that can be rushed. Try writing a page a day and always carry around a small book for new ideas. It’ll help you not feel so overwhelmed.
  • What motivates you?  An easy way to stay inspired is to do things you enjoy.  If long nature walks or car rides inspire you to write beautiful scenery details, then go more often.  I first started writing in high school because it helped be cope during dark times. I even gave myself closure sometimes.  I think if you’re ever feeling angry or hurt, you should immediately write those feelings in your notes on your phone or a notebook.  These raw, powerful feelings can end up turning into an amazing poem or short story. 
  • Remember self-care.  Your wellness is important. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed with life, take a personal day. Put on a face mask and unwind to some Alicia Keys.  I love to buy my favorite cookies, snuggle with my pets, and binge watch The Walking Dead.  It’s okay to skip class occasionally, but make sure to stay on top of what you have to do so you can avoid falling behind.

 

Nothing is too big for you to overcome.  You must believe in how awesome you are and, in your ability, to make your goals happen.  You’ve come this far, keep going!

Writing as Medicine

By Ingrid Kildiss

Its 3:30 pm, I’m sitting in class and my mind is racing. There are at least two more hours until my professor lets us out of class, but I can’t sit still. I’m anxious about the argument I got into with my mom this weekend, all the work I need to do, and the mess I left in my apartment, but I’m determined not to leave class. I open up a blank page in my notebook and write. While it’s not easy to write about the things that make me anxious and uncomfortable, it is much much better than remaining in an anxious mindset for the rest of class and risking spiraling into a terrible mood or leaving in the middle of a lecture.

Journaling and creative writing can be helpful in dealing with the potential trauma, stress, and anxiety of school and everyday life. In 1997, the American Psychological Society along with James Pennebaker published a study titled “Writing About Emotional Experiences As A Therapeutic Process,”  in which they argue that individuals who wrote about emotional or traumatic experiences for as little as fifteen to thirty minutes a day for three to five days experienced significant mental health improvements. Self-reports from subjects of this study identify the mental health improvements as being a reduction of stress as well as a reduction of depressed feelings. Many subjects (who were also students) noted an increase in grades in their self-reports. It’s likely that by writing, these young people confront and process tough emotions instead of ignoring them.

So, if you’re ever having a day where you just can’t shake off that anxious feeling, or you feel a bad thought escaping from where you left it last, consider sitting down for fifteen minutes to write. If starting is something you have trouble with, there are plenty of online resources and prompts. My favorite way to start is just to write stream of consciousness. This way, I often find my way to the issues that linger in my subconscious and address them by putting them to paper. Afterward, I tend to feel soothed or lighter. Even that small act can make a huge difference in your life and mental health. And if you’re committed to writing every day, you can find the path to conceits for stories or just to develop a practice of self-care!

Writing People We Know

By Elana Marcus 150812_MOV_MistressAmerica.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

In the 2015 Noah Baumbach film, Mistress America, college freshman Tracy meets her stepsister, Brooke, for the first time. Inspired by Brooke’s eccentric personality, Tracy writes a short story about her to submit to the school literary journal. After Brooke discovers the story, she is enraged. A whole interrogation scene follows where essentially every character in the movie yells at Tracy for what she’s done. Tracy breaks down in tears. Brooke threatens to sue. After watching this film, I found myself thinking deeply about this issue of writing people we know and the risks we take in doing so.

Anyone who writes fiction has probably found herself in Tracy’s position at some point. There have been many times where I’ve met someone and thought about fictionalizing them. But then the questions arise: is it okay for me to do this? Would it be considered stealing if I write about this person without permission? Will the person be mad at me if they find out that I’ve written about them? Is this immoral? It’s not like we can just walk around town with a disclaimer taped to our foreheads that reads: anything you say or do in my vicinity may be used in a story.

I think it’s safe to say that most (if not all) writers draw inspiration from their lives. It would be nearly impossible to create every single element of a story solely from the imagination, and a story should have some element of emotional truth. It isn’t so much a question of whether it’s okay to write about actual people, but when it is acceptable .

This past February, I was part of a small group of students who met at Purchase with novelist Elif Batuman, whose 2017 novel The Idiot sees the author drawing heavily from her own personal experiences in college. At the meeting, I asked her about the experience of writing characters based on people she knew. She answered that she started writing these characters long after she knew them, and she felt that waiting to write them was helpful. I’ve received similar advice from former teachers, who have said that waiting a while to write about people you know can better help you write them as characters and better analyze the circumstances under which you knew them.

Writing about people who are currently a part of our lives can certainly be a challenge. It could be easy for a writer to hold back when writing these characters because they don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings or risk potential conflict. But the details that are being held back may be the most compelling traits of this character. I once made a short film that was inspired by a friend of mine who had a habit of being late and unreliable, and a mutual friend approached me about it, saying that it might hurt her feelings. My friend ended up being completely okay with it, but it did force me to think more about whether the projects I work on could hurt the people I care about. In certain cases, waiting to write about someone could be beneficial. If you end up losing contact with this person or don’t see them as often, you most likely won’t have to worry about causing conflict and can feel less restrained in how you portray this character. Writing people we know may also feel uncomfortable, much like running into someone you dreamt about the night before. It can feel awkward, and this could also cause you to hold back when writing the character. I have written stories inspired by people I knew in my past and people I am close to now, and thankfully it’s worked out well for me in both cases. But I have also felt uncomfortable doing so and had trouble seeing the person as a fictional character.

Here’s my advice: if you’re inspired by a person and you want to write them as a character, give it a shot. See what works best for you. If writing about a person you know is working well for you, go with it! If you’re finding it difficult, let some time pass and try again in the future. You’ll have a different perspective on this person by that point and that could make the process of writing them clearer. Also, change enough about them so that the character on the page becomes distinct. I once heard that if you’re writing real-life people as characters, change at least one detail about the person’s physical appearance. This will allow you to see this person as the character you have created, rather than just a total imitation of the person who inspired you. Seek to use this person to create rather than imitate; they are just a jumping off point for the character you are creating.

The Sliding Razor: Effects of Sensory Imagery in Writing

By Shannon Magrane

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Sensory imagery, by definition, is an element of writing in which the five senses (sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell) are described in order to make your readers feel what your characters are experiencing. By evoking a sensory reaction, the writer enables the reader to be part of the characters’ physical experience. It has long been said that bad characters cannot carry a good plot, but good characters can carry a bad plot, so it is essential that the reader be connected to the characters above all. As such, the writer must make it as easy as possible for the reader to empathize with them. If the writer successfully achieves that, then they tie the reader’s emotions to those of the characters, and invest their audience completely in their story from beginning to end.

I understood this concept only on a basic level when I first started writing fiction seriously, much the same way you understand a recipe from reading and memorizing it, but not actually seeing or cooking the dish. It did not fully hit me how effective it could be in practice until reading “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” a 1967 short story by Harlan Ellison. In Ellison’s tale of a nightmarish future, one of only five humans left alive on Earth tells the story of how they spend the rest of their lives imprisoned, immortal, and tortured by the supercomputer that ended the world in the first place. This computer’s name is AM. He can think. He can reason. And he can feel…but the only thing left for him to think and reason and feel is how much he hates humanity.

This was the story that fully opened my eyes to the true potential of sensory imagery to reach inside the reader and fill them to the brim with emotion. Note your reaction to lines like, “AM said it with the sliding cold horror of a razor blade slicing my eyeball,” or, “The pain shivered through my flesh like tinfoil on a tooth.” The latter set my teeth on edge and made me taste metal. I was horrified, I was afraid, I was in the shadow of pain, but at the same time, I was amazed, fascinated, downright inspired.

Ellison’s use of language and intimate sensory imagery made me feel as though I were experiencing every pain the characters endured, an experience that no other writer had managed to evoke until that point. I sought to explore more of this skill, of how to make the words flow so fluidly and so vividly, digging deep as I could into the depths of what a person can feel. Such brilliant details can make another world or an alternate reality entirely tangible to the reader, no matter how wild or unfamiliar it is. It is these evocative details that a reader can recognize through the sensations of their own body, thereby becoming fully immersed in the people and in the world that the author has created. For an author who wants to create this re-familarizing effect in his or her audience, such details are essential to include.

Sensory imagery, of course, can and should be used to conjure other emotions besides fear. Though it feels like common knowledge, all five senses must be considered to get the full range of the sensation you are trying to convey. Think: do you have a headache, or is a jackhammer relentlessly pounding at the crevices of your brain? Are you happy, or did a fierce electric current just shoot through your veins? Are you disgusted by something, or does your skin crawl as though you’ve been dunked headfirst into cold bile? Which set of words makes your body react as you read? Which can you connect more to? And, quite simply, which sounds more interesting?

A writer should look into their own memories, their own experiences, to project onto their characters and narration. But when you do, focus less on the emotion that is being felt and focus more on what is going through the body as it is happening: over the skin, piercing the eardrum, holding the organs and muscles inside. All the little details of what you feel are valuable, and can deeply enrich a story. Above all, as a writer, you must show, not tell, and use of sensory imagery is an incredibly effective way to do that.

Image: SugaryAshes. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Drawing. DeviantArt. https://www.deviantart.com/sugaryashes/art/I-Have-No-Mouth-And-I-Must-Scream-439695641

A Celebration and a Weight to Bear: Exploring Violence, Loss, and Culture in Tarfia Faizullah’s Registers of Illuminated Villages

By Mitchell Angelo 

Tarfia Faizullah is a Bengali-American award-winning poet. Her second collection of poetry, Registers of Illuminated Villages, examines violence: both personal and societal. She utilizes the confessional style to present the reader with real life challenges she has faced. Faizullah blends the philosophical with the tangible. Her work makes the reader ask questions about the nature of humanity, and what it means to be good.

Faizullah discusses living as a person of color in The United States, specifically in “Self Portrait As A Mango.” In it, the collection’s first expletive appears, and its place is well earned. With the opening stanza, “Your English is great! How long have you been in our country? / I say, Suck on a mango, bitch, since that’s all you think I eat anyway,” Faizullah takes down ignorant white people. This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is similarly straightforward and dialogue-heavy. Throughout it, the speaker’s self-comparison to a mango acts as a metaphor for objectification—as a possible reference to ignorant people who compare non-white people to inanimate objects. In expanding on this comparison, Faizullah holds nothing back. She makes sure the reader clearly understands what she is articulating. The result is a poem of fury.

Toward the end of “Self-Portrait as a Mango,” the speaker examines self-worth as a person of color, finally concluding: “This mango isn’t alien just because of its gold-green bloodline. I know I’m worth waiting for.” This line marks her refusal to give in to the self-hate she has been taught by white society. It is a proclamation of self-love— a moment of strength against the violence “Registers of Illuminated Villages” expands upon.

In addition to conveying fury and defiance, Faizullah calls for her audience to learn and relearn loss. “To The Bangladeshi Cab Driver In San Francisco” is an example of this. Here, a sorrowful narrative unfolds as Faizullah recalls hearing a cab driver speak the language she learned as a child. She writes, “I could open my mouth to you in the register I know we know, but don’t, or won’t.”

Reading this poem—especially this line—as a person of color, my heart broke. I saw the speaker’s decision to stay silent as evidence that she is not ready to relive negative experiences she has had within her culture. I, along with plenty of Faizullah’s other readers, have had the exact same experience. My culture feels like both a celebration and a weight to bear, especially having grown up in a predominantly white neighborhood. And at times, I too have opted for silence. In “To the Bangladeshi Cab Driver in San Francisco,” Faizullah puts this silence into words. Though heartbreaking, the poem was so important for me to read. It resonated with me not just on a cultural level, but on a deeply personal level as well.

Loss of the language of one’s childhood is one of several types of loss that Faizullah makes known to her readers. For instance, “Registers of Eliminated Villages,” the collection’s almost-namesake, is a breathtaking piece about loss of innocence, about children struggling to find a safe, warm space to exist in an area ravaged by war. With the lines, “A mother turns to a father / in the cold room they share, / offers her hands to his spine. / I curl inside her, a silver bangle / illuminated by candle’s / flame,” Faizullah examines the beginning of life amidst living beings already struggling to survive. These instances of experiential dichotomy appear over and over throughout the collection, giving Registers of Illuminated Villages the strength and power it needs to become a vital piece in poetry.

Registers
Registers of Illuminated Villages was published on March 6, 2018 by Graywolf Press. The collection is 112 pages long. It is available for purchase for $16 via IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

 

Dynamic Characters in Theatre and Writing

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Legendary actress and theatre practitioner Uta Hagen. Originator of the “6 Step” Method. 

As a Theatre and Performance Major, I’m often asked to consider my character’s wants when playing a role. “What is my motivation?” is a question that actors pose so often that it’s parodied. But as it turns out, there’s something to this question. Actors use it to better inhabit their characters. If I can take anything away from my training as an actor, whether from the physical or method/emotional practices, it is that to create a real character, you have to find their desire.

I discovered quickly that this is not just a concept valuable in acting, but also in writing. The actress and theatre practitioner, Uta Hagen, came up with the “Six Steps,” a very technical approach to dissecting theatrical roles. Her strategy asks you, the actor, to answer six “in character” questions: 1) Who am I? 2) What are the circumstances? 3) What are my relationships? 4) What do I want? 5) What is standing in my way? 6) How will I get what I want?

In typical practice, actors will physically write down the answers to these six questions. In doing so, they uncover distinctive behaviors and quirks that contribute to their understanding of the character. This deepened understanding can greatly inform acting decisions, affecting everything from bodily movements to line delivery. This is because with each of the six steps, the actor takes a step deeper into the character’s mind.

I soon realized that this line of inquiry could help me better write my own fictional characters. Though designed for actors, Hagen’s questions are clearly applicable to fiction. In almost every novel, a dynamic character’s desire for something difficult to obtain catalyzes their journey, while the obstacles they face along the way drive the plot.

Given these similarities, why not apply this acting strategy to the writing of your own characters? You’ll hopefully find that this six-step formula will force you to explore your character’s desires. After all, a character will always want something, and whether you are becoming a character or creating one, it is important to figure out what that “something” is.

Another character concept related to desire is the idea of “bits.” This idea, which I also learned about in acting class, deals with the pacing of a scene in relation to the character’s wants. When using this strategy, the actors mark up their scripts with all the places their characters want change. Consequently, they can pinpoint the exact lines where tonal shifts should take place. This is not as easily done in a novel or short story. That being said, by practicing “bits,” actors may develop a better feel for the rhythm of dialogue, and of language in general. This knowledge, of which words or phrases to emphasize and which to handle softly, directly translates to the writing process, to pacing in particular. As a writer and an actor, I can safely say that pacing is as important to writing fiction as it is to performing on stage.

It’s so important to recognize how much different forms of art can inform one another. It’s one of the most valuable things I’ve learned as a double major. When using theatrical practices in fiction writing, I’ve found my characters gaining a new life.

 

 

Every Game is a Workshop: Becoming a Better Writer By Playing Dungeons and Dragons

By Mina Guadalupe

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Whether they are making maps or building combats, millions of people around the world have used Dungeons and Dragons as a creative outlet. With time, the fantasy role-playing game only seems to be getting more popular. As a D&D fan myself, I find that the skills I develop—both as a player and a Dungeon Master—are advantageous outside of the game, especially in creative writing. With the resurgence of Dungeons and Dragons players, many writers are beginning to notice the literary benefits of playing.

For one, Dungeons and Dragons is all about world building. Whether you’re getting lost in another person’s world or building your own for your players, every moment during a session is a learning experience. You quickly learn what’s working and what isn’t. As a player, you can learn from other more experienced people how to create an engaging environment. And as a Dungeon Master, your players will be quick to tell you what’s entertaining about your world and what’s not. Every game is a workshop on writing an immersive story.

While a sense of place is important, the real story comes through the characters who inhabit it. Characterization can make or break a story. A thing to remember as a Dungeon Master is that your players need to care about your Non Playable Characters (NPCs). Having this challenge helps you develop more memorable characters. Some of them might even make their way into your written stories.

As a player, you also acquire skills related to character development. Though you don’t create NPCs the way a Dungeon Master does, you do over time gain an understanding your own character’s psyche and personality. This ability—to understand characters on a psychological level— is just as important in writing as it is in gameplay. Every moment that you spend being a character, you’re learning how to weave a person into this world you’re a part of. The more experience you gain, the easier you’ll find it to make characters for your own stories.

So now that you’ve got your characters and setting, there’s only one thing left to do: Improve. Ray Bradbury once said, “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” And regardless of whether you’re writing a novel or a Dungeons and Dragons story plot (called a campaign), the story will never end up where you want it to. Dungeons and Dragons players are notorious for doing the exact opposite of what you want them to do. Either you’re the one being frustrated or doing the frustrating, and it always gives you the opportunity to learn to improvise. The more you play, the more you learn to come up with creative ways into and out of situations. Creativity is like a muscle and improvising helps you stretch it. Dungeons and Dragons gives you a workshop area to not only have fun playing with others, but to test all of your ideas with a bunch of people who want nothing more than for you to succeed.

Sometimes the idea works; sometimes it doesn’t, and you have to roll a new character. But either way, you’re learning and gaining experience to add to your own stories. So whether you’re writing a campaign or playing one, joining the Dungeon and Dragons craze can help you become a better writer by showing you exactly what makes a good story.

A Cozier Alternative to the Classroom (An Interview with Paloma Gratereaux)

An Interview by Carly Sorenson 

Paloma

Paloma Gratereaux is a junior double-major at SUNY Purchase and recent founder of the African American Women Writers Book Club. The club meets biweekly on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in the Multicultural Center. Shortly after the club’s first meeting, the two of us sat down for a conversation about representation, reading for leisure, and Zora Neale Hurston’s long-lost nonfiction novel, Barracoon.

Carly Sorenson: What inspired you to start the book club?

Paloma Gratereaux: I’m a playwriting major but I declared as a literature major at the end of last semester. My teacher, Aviva, told me to go to a meeting for lit majors to make sure they’re on track to graduate where this one girl asked the professors what they were going to do in the classes they teach to promote diversity, and specifically to promote black women writers. The teachers did give her an answer, but it was vague. They were aware that diversity in the curriculum is a problem, but I guess it’s difficult to tackle.

So then I turned around to the girl and I was like, You should start a book club. Those were my words to her. And she’s like, I would, but I’m graduating. And in my head I was like, That sucks, but it shouldn’t stop there.

So I told Aviva and she directed me to Daisy in the Multicultural Center, and then Daisy did everything. I gave her a book list and she got it off its feet. She’s amazing at what she does. Without her, I doubt the book club would have worked. It would just be an idea.

CS: What was the process of starting a book club like?

PG: Daisy asked me if it would be weekly or biweekly, and if I wanted internship credit. I could have done that, but I didn’t have the extra time to commit to journaling and all that. I was more than happy to just do it, to provide the space as a volunteer. That was always my intention.

I publicized with flyers, and I posted about the club on the open forum. I made the flyers myself! They’re not that good, but I’m proud.

CS: What books do you plan on reading at the club?

PG: Right now we’re reading Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’ by Zora Neale Hurston, and let me tell you about that. It’s a really cool book. It was written 90 years ago but it was just published last April by Deborah Plant. She’s really into Zora Neale Hurston, that’s her specialty. So basically, 90 years ago Zora interviewed this man, Cudjo Lewis, who was the last survivor of the slave ship Clotilda. She interviewed him about his life back home and the process of being taken away on a ship, and serving someone else, and having all that stripped away from him. Cudjo Lewis wanted to save up money to go back to Africa but he couldn’t gather the funds. Instead, he started a community in Alabama called Africa Town, which is still there. They have their own language and everything. So the book is about his legacy and her interviews with him.

Deborah Plant found and edited the book. She’s coming here to Purchase to give a talk, so hopefully we’ll have the book finished in time for that.

The other books that we might read include The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tarbaby, and Love by Toni Morrison, then Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, Betsy Brown, and Liliane by Ntozake Shange, who also wrote For Colored Girls. Just really classic titles by Black American women. I haven’t read any of them, but I feel like they’re must-reads.

CS: Sounds like a great reading list. How did you choose these particular books?

PG: Well, I knew all these names from somewhere, but I never had the chance to read them before. I wondered why that was, and I realized it was because I had no incentive. So I feel like this book club will be good for people like me, or people who have a passion for these writers. Also, I picked books that were under 250 pages, because we all have lives. I’m not going to assign a huge book.

CS: What role do you think a book club should play in the literary world? Or more specifically, what role should this book club play on campus?

PG: Oh, wow. I want it to be a safe space where we can read these books comfortably. I feel like a club is different from a class setting because it’s cozier. The Multicultural Center is super cozy, and I bring snacks and stuff. I want it to be a super chill place where if you feel some type of way, you can communicate that.

I had six girls show up to the first meeting, all black female students, and the conversations we had moved me. I told them that there are so many things I cannot relate to because I’m not a black woman in this country, so I don’t see myself as a leader in this club. I just see myself as part of it. I told them that they would be guiding the conversation, and I would provide the snacks and the books. This is for them. They deserved a place, and someone had to provide it.

Beyond that, books have so much depth to them, but how much are you really connecting to the text if your grade is on the line? I feel like books should be for leisure. In classroom settings, the stakes are too high. You look at a book and you’re like, Ugh, that’s for class. Why can’t we just have books to read? Why can’t we relearn that books are leisure? It’s a privilege, not a burden.

Barracoon