The former Drew University professor shares her experiences writing across multiple genres
November 2021 – Writers@Drew welcomed novelist, poet, essayist, and short story writer Tiphanie Yanique.
The author, who is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Emory University, has earned a litany of global literary awards for her work. She is the author of the poetry collection Wife, the short story collection How to Escape a Leper Colony, the award-winning novel Land of Love and Drowning.
The virtual event was moderated by Courtney Zoffness, assistant professor of English and director of Drew’s creative writing program.
Incidentally, Yanique coordinated the Writers@Drew series when she was an assistant professor of creative writing and Caribbean literature at Drew a decade ago, and even recommended Zoffness to fill her position when she left Drew to pursue other opportunities. “Drew is my first academic home,” said Yanique.
Yanique read an excerpt from her newly published second novel, Monster in the Middle, hailed one of the most anticipated works of fiction of fall 2021 by The New York Times.
Zoffness and the student audience asked the author a series of thought-provoking and stylistic questions.
Can you share some significant markers on your literary map that have led you to become a professional author?
Like Monster in the Middle, there are many starts and pathways—beginnings are multiple and we have many ways of getting to where we end up. We think of ourselves as individuals, but we are all actually multiple. Inside of us is not just our own experiences, but also the experiences we’ve inherited in our genetic code.
I became a writer through multiple narratives. My grandmother and mother were both librarians and introduced books to me at a very early age. When you love reading very early, it’s natural to want to engage with it, devour it, and snuggle yourself inside of it.
Another narrative is that I had a great fifth-grade teacher who believed I was talented and asked me to read a story I had written in front of my class. The teacher picked me out, rose me up, and put me on a pedestal—which was a boost to the positive parts of my self-esteem.
Lastly, I took a creative writing class during my time at Tufts University, which pulled together my love of literature and my love of how people work. I had professors who challenged me and some that lifted me up. These experiences sharpened me and helped me become a better and braver writer.
We don’t do it alone. We do it with the support of so many people.
As a writer of many different genres, is there a particular genre in which you feel most at home?
I’m trained as a poet first. Whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction, I try to pay attention to language, syntax, and grammar. For me, the question of home is a very vexing one. It’s possible that writing multiple genres is part of our anxiety in feeling safe in one genre—and the desire to have multiple homes. When I am feeling unwelcome in one, I have another one to go to. When I feel stuck, I move to another genre.
What is your interest in casting a wide net with your characters—familiarly, spiritually, geographically?
I want to write characters who are super complex. Part of what literature is supposed to do is hold a mirror to us. It should lead us forward and charge us with change. My goal is to present humans on the page. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the truth of ourselves and our humanness.
What made you decide to write Monster in the Middle episodically?
I wanted to challenge myself. This book took me 14 years to write. I want to present a new mastery to my readers every time [I publish]. I was a neophyte at the beginning of this artistic process and I trust the journey to take me along to expertise and when I’m convinced it’s mastery, I’ll present it to my publisher.
The free event was co-sponsored by The Casement Fund and the English Department.