My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

March 12, 2024: NeMLA Reflections: NeMLA Reads Together

[This past weekend I attended the one scholarly conference I never miss: the Northeast MLA. It was a great time as it always is, so as usual here’s a series of reflections on some of the great work I heard, saw, and shared there! Leading up to a few more reflections on NeMLA as an organization!]

On two takeaways from the latest example of a wonderful communal endeavor.

Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote a NeMLA reflection post highlighting the first iteration of the organization’s then-newest conference idea, NeMLA Reads Together (which that year featured Andre Dubus III and his book Gone So Long). Before I say a couple things about this year’s Read and author, I’d ask you to check out that post if you would and then come on back.

Welcome back! This year’s NeMLA Reads Together book was Land of Love and Drowning (2014), the debut novel from our keynote address speaker Tiphanie Yanique. Land of Love and Drowning is a wonderful example of one of my very favorite genres: a multigenerational family novel, spanning decades in the lives of (in this case) a family on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many of the novels I’ve read in that genre could be described as social realism, but while Yanique’s certainly includes those layers, it also features more supernatural elements in a prominent and particularly powerful role (putting in conversation with another great multigenerational Caribbean American novel from a now frustratingly fraught author, Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao [2008]). I’ll have to think more about how I’d analyze those supernatural elements, and look forward to the chance to do so while teaching Yanique’s novel at some point; but I know they added something striking and meaningful to her work in this familiar literary genre.

The most important benefit of the NeMLA Reads Together initiative is not just the chance to have and read this shared text ahead of the conference, wonderful as that opportunity is. It’s also and especially the opportunity to follow up that collective reading by hearing from the author at the conference, in this special keynote address. As illustrated by countless interviews like this one on Land of Love and Drowning with Noreen Tomassi of Brooklyn’s Center for Fiction, Yanique is a thoughtful and compelling voice far beyond her fiction, one who can connect her formal, stylistic, and genre choices to thematic questions of place and community, culture and heritage, the history of the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean, spirituality, and more. To hear directly from such a voice offers distinct yet complementary pleasures and inspirations to reading their work, and I came away from Yanique’s talk as moved and inspired as I’ve been from every NeMLA Reads Together author and work alike.

Next reflection tomorrow,


PS. If you were at NeMLA, what would you share? If not or in any case, other organizations you’d highlight?

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