Friday, June 24, 2011

Tiphanie Yanique and Elizabeth Nunez at The Center for Fiction

By Phedra Deonarine

Tiphanie Yanique at The Center for Fiction, June 15, 2011
I recently went to The Center for Fiction’s conversation between Elizabeth Nunez and Tiphanie Yanique. The Center for Fiction is located on East 47th Street and has a wonderful bookstore full of new and used books. The discussion was held in a cozy room, which afforded a more intimate atmosphere between the audience and the two writers.

Yanique started the evening off by acknowledging the work that The Center for Fiction does for writers as “the only non-profit in the U.S. dedicated to celebrating fiction.” She read from the title story in her collection How to Escape from a Leper Colony. She then sat down to speak with Nunez, award-winning author of seven novels and fellow Caribbean writer.

Yanique’s first book spans the Caribbean, but Nunez pointed out a shared connection between the two writers: Both wrote about the Leper Colony located on the island of Chacachacare off the coast of Trinidad. It was interesting to hear these two writers speak of Chacachacare because even though I lived in Trinidad for eighteen years, I’ve never actually been to the island. Listening to Yanique describe the file cabinets located on that island made me think that perhaps I should visit one day.

Nunez requested that Yanique read a story that involved the beating of a young child. Both writers then discussed child abuse in the Caribbean and the role of the author in dealing with this charged issue. Nunez was also interested in Yanique’s choice of including a Caribbean jail cell in her story because the jails in the Caribbean are located near the sea and have the special torment of offering spectacular seaside views to the inmates.

Prompted by an audience member, Nunez discussed the seduction of writing in first person and the distance that writing in third person allows. Fielding a question from the audience, Yanique spoke on the burden placed on Caribbean writers to explain perceived strangeness in their stories. She used “calalloo” as an example and stated that if a reader was genuinely curious about calalloo they would research it. She went on to say that explaining such a dish would harm the authenticity of her characters who would never describe something so well known to them. This was a highly gratifying answer for me because I’m often confronted with the burden of explaining minor details in my own creative work.

Both writers also responded to audience questions on the benefits of MFA programs and the business of writing. The evening concluded, and I was able to ask Elizabeth Nunez to sign my copy of Grace, newly purchased from the Center for Fiction’s bookstore located on the ground floor.