Tiphanie Yanique offers wisdom to aspiring writers

Professor and well-known writer Tiphanie Yanique visited Puget Sound on Monday, September 16. She read a short story from her book How to Escape From a Leper Colony, a collection of stories set in Africa, America and all over the Caribbean. Yanique was the first speaker in a series hosted by the African American Studies program. The series, The Caribbean Writer, will bring celebrated cultural writers and artists from the Caribbean Islands to read and share their experiences.
Students took powerful interest in Yanique’s writing process, her style, and her cultural identity. One student asked her to describe the process of writing characters with different identities from hers. “Is this story coming from a broader social context, am I representing more than just myself? In this story, each of my characters have some roots in me… they are really different from than I am, but they are all very important to the reality of the Virgin Island experience,” Yanique said.
Other students asked questions probing the content of some of her work. When asked why some of her stories seemed to have very morbid endings, Yanique responded that she didn’t think her writing was so morbid. “People do die, and things do get left unwrapped up.”
As a Professor of Creative Writing at the New School in New York, Yanique has a wealth of knowledge regarding the writing process in general. Several members of the audience were aspiring artists and asked her about her process and how her cultural experience impacted her art. “Is this just shock value? Then it’s not art,” Yanique said.
Many audience members seemed more interested in Yanique as a writer than as a cultural ambassador, but she gracefully connected the two by explaining the importance of what the artist brings to their art. She described the transpose of the writer’s narrative and the reader’s narrative, then explained how a good cultural experience will make them match up.
On Tuesday, Yanique had a discussion with Professor Suzanne Warren’s English 402 class over coffee. Many students posed mechanical and technical questions regarding the writing process. As a professor, Yanique had answers and advice as well as honest words regarding the difficulty of getting published. “Most people who I graduated with still don’t have any books out,” she said. “I graduated and a year later I had a book contract, but that’s really unheard of actually. For most people it takes a lot longer.” Yanique also encouraged these writers, telling them that rejection is good, even if it does not feel good.
Overall, budding writers and students interested in Caribbean culture at the University were excited to learn from Professor Yanique, and she was enthusiastic, open and honest with anyone who wanted to ask her questions.
Every year the University offers opportunities to expand students’ cultural experiences through programs such as this one. This series, which is intended to broaden the horizons of the students and to inspire artists to work with a lens of cultural awareness, exposes students to cultures from other parts of the world, opportunities they may not otherwise have.