Students discussed immigration, race, and the refugee experience in round table discussions with visiting writer and oral historian Terry Farish.
Author Terry Farish had an attentive audience when she spoke to Humanities IV classes on February 16. Her novel, The Good Braider, based on real-life interactions with female refugees from South Sudan acclimating to life in Portland, Maine, was originally published in 2012, but its themes appeared custom-made for a talk on current events. President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order has brought the conversation about immigration to the international forefront.
Fourth Former Estela Lacombe Franca was riveted. "I know what it feels like to leave home and to leave the culture you grew up with," said Lacombe Franca, who is originally from Brazil. "I think the book is very important, especially now. Even though I know what it is like to leave where you are from, I didn't know it was happening on such a large scale, and I had no idea such reality existed."
Farish’s visit to St. Paul’s School was part of the Ohrstrom Library Visiting Authors Series, a new piece of library programming this academic year. Since beginning in the Fall Term, students and faculty have had the opportunity to interact with several writers at the School and in downtown Concord: Colson Whitehead, author of the National Book Award-winning work The Underground Railroad; Rachel Stearns, a debut author (Now is Forever); and Virginia Macgregor, a young adult author (What Milo Saw) and wife of SPS Theatre Director Hugh Macgregor.
When Lacombe Franca and her formmates read the book before Farish’s visit, their instructor The Rev. Alice Courtright deliberately withheld information from the group. The novel’s narrator is a teenage refugee of color, but the author is a white woman. The revelation brought a new layer to the discussion and challenged both the students and Farish in a conversation about the dynamics of privilege.
“My muse for me as a writer is always to understand things I don’t understand,” explained Farish. “Immersing myself in a story that is not my own is morally important to me.”
When Farish began interacting with the South Sudan refugee community, she felt the need to bring wider attention to their experiences. “I wrote it because I had to write it,” she said. “It’s a story that needed to be told.”
Her visit fulfilled one of the aims of the series. “When you come to an event like this, immerse yourself in it,” said Karla Kittler, program director of Ohrstrom Library. “Read the book, try to take as much from it as you can.”
The series is just one part of a growing number of programs offered through Ohrstrom Library. In addition to access to 75,000 print books, and nearly half-a-million eBooks
, students are invited to connect with their creative side during write-ins on Sunday afternoons and take part in study break activities.
Next in the Visiting Author Series is Sarah Prager, author of Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World
, on March 30 and 31.