First Sighting at Harlem Book Fair; Second at NYU.
Tiphanie Yanique. I first met her at the Harlem Book Fair's Fiction Festival, held at Columbia University in July 2014. Yanique is on a panel called Coming from Far: Caribbean Writers on Home and Otherness. Her book, LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING, published by Riverhead/ Penguin, is just hitting bookstores – and the world. Over the next hour and a half, she tells us secrets that too often authors keep hidden. Not only the secrets about her how her family influenced her book, but the secrets about how writers create:
Yanique disclosed that many in her Virgin Island family didn't want her to write her book as she initially envisioned it. It revealed too much, better kept inside the family.
Yanique talked about how she was caught in the tangle of love of family on the one hand, and the irrepressible need for her own voice to break free, on the other.
Ultimately, it took Yanique several years to at last find a way to tell her story, by accommodating her family's need for privacy and her desire for self-expression.
That time of flux must have been painful for her loved ones – and for her.
Next Sighting of Yanique...
Now, several months later, I am listening to Yanique read from LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING, the book that came out of her time of struggle. We are at New York University, in a lovely townhouse – the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House. People file in, quickly filling up the chairs. I'm beneath the steep staircase, rising along a wall that's lined with framed photographic portraits of acclaimed writers who gaze out like orishas: Toni Morrison is among them.
Can Yanique see those writer-creators from where she stands at the podium, before the filled-to-capacity audience?
She begins by paying homage to NYU for providing space exclusively for writers, with its Lillian Vernon House, and by giving "gratitude" for her years in this space as a student. It's here when she reveals that it took her 11 years to write the book. I recall her revelations in July, as part of the Harlem Book Fair panel about her struggle to create the book. I did not know it took so long. Eleven years to write LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING!
At the reading, she reveals that her grandmother, not her parents, raised her, and says "my aunts and cousin fed me." They threatened to "disown" her after reading the manuscript she sent them, nine years into writing the book. "I made the changes they needed me to make. I think I made a richer book because of it."
Yanique says the book, set between 1916 to late-1960s, parallels "what's going on in Ferguson" today. And, that this 50-year timeframe is "in my mind, when the Virgin Islands become Americanized. Along comes World War II and then the Civil Rights Movement. It gave Virgin Islands the opportunity to be 'American.'" I'm wondering: How does she tell this story, this complicated duality? Is it tied to her own?
Later after the reading, during the Q & A, Yanique says "my narrator is multiple. I have three other narrators, first-person narrators. The same event is seen in different ways: They actually see other things that another person doesn't see." She believes her book frames "What it means to be American – and to tell your story. To tell your narrative." These multiple narrators help us recognize, she says, "Virgin Islanders are African-American. There are more versions: Northern, Southern. There is a multiplicity of versions of understanding the African-American experience."
What's The 411TV Book Editor, Luvon Roberson (left) chatting with Tiphanie Yanique, author of LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING, prior to her talk at NYU's Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House.
My Favorite Author Quips & Snippets
Here's a quick pick of my favorite comments made by Tiphanie Yanique at her book reading at New York University, on September 12, 2014.
"Magic is real."
"A parent's first magic is naming."
"I feel like a responsible human being. I do think of politics, race, social justice. Politics, race, gender, and the natural environment. I think of them as craft structures. I feel free by those forms. I know that I'm participating in that form."
"I have two kids now. If my daughter is sleeping, I try to write. It might be five minutes, it may be 10 minutes, and I'm grateful."
BIO: Tiphanie Yanique
Tiphanie Yanique lives in Brooklyn and she is the author of the novel LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING, (Riverhead/Penguin 2014), and the short story collection, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, published by Graywolf Press, 2010.
BookPage listed her as one of the 14 Women to Watch Out For in 2014. Her writing has won the 2011 BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Fiction, Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship, and an Academy of American Poet's Prize. Yanique has been listed by the Boston Globe as one of the 16 cultural figures to watch out for and by the National Book Foundation as one of the 5 Under 35. Her writing has been published in Best African American Fiction, The Wall Street Journal, American Short Fiction among others.