Celebration of Literary Arts Hosts Aimee Nezukumatathil and Ross Gay

Award-winning poets Aimee Nezukumatathil and Ross Gay headlined the sixth week of the nine-week long Celebration of Literary Arts seriessharing their insights on writing during a live reading and Q&A session for the DMACC community over Zoom on March 22.  

Nezukumatathil and Gay began the event by conversing about their co-authored book, Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens.” The book began as a letter conversation between the longtime friends but grew into a book.  

Ross is one of the only ones left of my friends who actually likes letter writing, but we didn’t think that this was going to be anything for public consumption really,” Nezukumatathilsaid.  

The idea of writing garden reports to each other developed when Nezukumatathilvisited Gay’s community garden in Bloomington.  

I really only had him in mind when I was doing this, but then, as with everything, I thought I was going to start in one way and then these other subjects started branching off from there. It became this beautiful kind of correspondence over the course of a full year,” Nezukumatathilsaid.  

As poets, both authors were wary of creating a book for fear of it becoming too contrived. Ross said he also encountered this challenge while writing his collection of essays, “The Book of Delights.”  

Ross said, “It’s a struggle of how to have a thing that you know is a sort of project without it becoming contrived or predictable or mapped out in a way because that’s the last thing you want. 

Ross said he worked hard to make his book “sustained inquiry that would be interesting for a length of time.”  

Nezukumatathilopened up about how the idea for her New York Times Bestseller “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks & Other Astonishments” came about. 

I did have an overarching umbrella of wonder in mind,” said Nezukumatathil. “I didn’t have a thread in mind until about 2016, and I can remember that because it was about the summer or early fall of the election. 

Nezukumatathil said that after many difficult conversations with her children about immigration and the mistreatment of women, her writing began to take shape.  

That’s when all my essays started to have a laser focus. I wanted this to be my response to write towards love, and I wanted this to be a record of the things their mother loved so much and wanted them to see,” Nezukumatathil said. 

Nezukumatathil read an excerpt from this book entitled “The Grey Cockatiel” as well as a poem she wrote during quarantine titled “Ode to Sitting in a Booth.”  

Ross followed with an essay from “The Book of Delights” titled “Joy is Such a Human Madness,” and an untitled excerpt of something he’s currently working on.  

Ross told the audience he finds inspiration by always asking questions.  

I realized that anything can be interesting if I’m actually asking about it, but if I’m telling about it, then my interest in it starts to diminish. I’m way less interested in things that I know about than things that I wonder about,” Ross said.   

Nezukumatathil also shared how she maintains her passion and connections to her topics like wonder.  

For me, wonder goes hand in hand with darkness. My bits of wonder and curiosity always have a dark side. I don’t try to separate myself from it,” said Nezukumatathil 

Event coordinator Marc Dickinson said he was very happy with how the event went, despite being virtual 

It’s been a lot of fun with high attendance, great interaction in the chat, and there’s always a bunch of astute questions in the Q&A. We can never get to them all,” Dickinson said. 

Dickinson said he learns a lot from the perspective of each author even when he’s the one asking the questions.  

I’m a writer and teacher of writing, so I’m taking as many notes as the students hopefully are. The writers have such wonderful and intelligent comments that I’m learning with everyone else,” said Dickinson.  

Dickinson said there’s a lot to be gained from these events.  

Part of the benefit of these readings is to see that there is a living and thriving writing community in the world,” Dickinson said. “Many students have never met a writer — it seems like a mythical thing. We want to de-mystify the profession to show that they are just ordinary people like everyone elsand that writing is equally accessible to everyone.”

The Celebration of Literary Arts continued March 30 featuring Poet Tim Seibles & Novelist Jill McCorkle.

There are three more Celebration of Literary Arts virtual events in April.

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