Award-winning Ghanaian and Armenian American writer Nadia Owusu has always turned to reading and writing as ways to process the world and the events of her life.
“Writing rigorously requires us to complicate the often too-easy stories we subconsciously create for ourselves. I believe that every person has work to do in interrogating the stories we’ve been given, particularly the ones that cause harm. We can revise those stories so that they’re more truthful and full of possibility,” Owusu said.
Owusu, the 2019 Whiting Award winner, confronts her stories in her acclaimed debut memoir, “Aftershocks,” which is part of the 2022 Chippewa Valley Book Festival.
“Aftershocks” was listed as a best book of 2021 by Time, Vogue, Esquire, the Guardian, NPR, BBC and others. Former President Barack Obama named it one his favorite books of the year, and it was selected by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai for her Literati book club.
University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Literature Committee and the book festival are co-hosting Owusu’s virtual presentation, “Reclaiming Our Stories,” from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27. Registration is required.
In her presentation, Owusu will discuss how people are often fed stories about themselves and how writing can help people reclaim themselves by processing trauma, grief, isolation, dislocation and disconnection, and remake their stories toward healing, self-love and a radically reimagined world.
A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation, moderated by Lopamudra Basu, Literature Committee co-chair and professor in the English, philosophy and communication studies department.
Basu thinks “Aftershocks” will resonate with participants, as Owusu’s memoir “touches on her biracial identity, her in-between status in American and African culture, the childhood traumas of losing her parents and her ultimate resilience,” she said.
“‘Aftershocks’ was a timely choice for UW-Stout to focus on, given our emphasis on equity, diversity and inclusion. Nadia is truly a world citizen writer. Having lived in many countries and having a unique heritage, she brings a truly cosmopolitan sensibility into her writing and presentation,” Basu added.
“Reclaiming Our Stories” is made possible with technology assistance from L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. “Aftershocks” is available at Bookends on Main in downtown Menomonie and may be ordered via email at email@example.com or phone, at 715-233-6252. It is also available electronically from the University Library.
Writing allows us to ‘move differently in the world’
Owusu began “Aftershocks” as a private project to help make important changes in her life and to better understand the histories that have shaped her and to reckon with her past, she said.
“I didn’t think about it as a book for a long time. I was working on a novel. But eventually, I realized that this was a story I needed to tell,” Owusu said.
Margo Jefferson, author of “Negroland: A Memoir” and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, said in a review that Owusu’s “task and burden are threefold: to chronicle the historical wounds and legacies of each country; to chart her own descent into grief, mania and madness; to begin the work of emotional reconstruction. She does so with unerring honesty and in prose that is both rigorous and luminous.”
Owusu was grateful for Jefferson’s words as she is an inspiration to her. “It wasn’t about coping, exactly. It was more about facing my grief and trauma, which I’d avoided doing for so long. If we are not honest about the past, we have little chance of shaping a better future. Doing the work of reckoning on the page allowed me to move differently in the world.”
Owusu teaches creative writing at Columbia University in New York City and in Southern New Hampshire University’s Mountainview MFA program. She loves doing events at colleges and universities.
“I remember that time in my life as so rich with discovery and passion. Writing during that time can help students figure out what they’re passionate about, what moves them and what they think. Creating processes for self-knowledge can be an important part of a healing journey,” she said.
Youth Make-and-Take workshops
The festival is also offering two Make-and-Take workshops for children interested in writing and bookmaking, led by comic artist and UW-Stout School of Art and Design Assistant Professor Mary Climes and illustrator, artist and alum Brianna Capra.
The workshops will be on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s Dabble Box Room, 400 Eau Claire St., Eau Claire.
- 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.: Book Making Workshop for Young Writers. Children third to eighth grade are invited to a unique and creative book-making workshop. Students will learn how to turn their writing into a physical bound book. Registration is required.
- 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Children of all ages will create a simple “one-page wonder” book that can be filled with anything they can imagine. Instructions will be provided. Caregiver supervision and assistance is required. Preregistration is not required.
Inclusive excellence is a part of UW-Stout’s FOCUS2030 goals. It aims to invest in, and ensure access to, equitable, diverse and inclusive learning, student living and work environments that reflect regional and global connections.