Ocean of Imagination
By Mary Haft
April showers brought windswept writer, Morowa Yejidé to our island shores, her first trip to Nantucket and her virgin journey on Cape Air (bit of a bumpy ride!) -- a journey made possible by the Nantucket Book Festival in partnership with the Nantucket High School, and our NBF PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program, now made possible with the help of the Community Foundation for Nantucket and Nantucket Golf Club.
Morowa Yejidé's book, Time of the Locust, is an odyssey into the world of an extraordinary autistic boy, the mother who has given all of herself to raising him, and the reach of his imprisoned and isolated father. A realm explored and ultimately redeemed by hope and by love.
Yejidé's book was the work of contemporary literature studied in the classroom of English teacher, Liz Reinemo. PEN/Faulkner supplied the curriculum guide, and the book was given as a gift to all students. It was read, studied and discussed, which culminated with this classroom visit. Ms. Reinemo created a dynamic classroom exploration of this powerful novel. "We tracked various topics throughout the novel, including racial tension, autism, solitary confinement, communication, isolation, hope, the power of love and dualities. We also looked at the writer's craft and the genre of magical realism. We also celebrated World Autism Day and 'lit it up BLUE', in addition to hearing first-hand accounts from families who live with autism in their lives." Additionally, Ms. Reinemo noted that "we also had a former corrections officer come in to class and speak about 'life on the inside'."
This school visit is part of the on-going work of the Nantucket Book Festival -- work that we believe is vital to the collective efforts that all of us bring to our island students. Principal John Buckey, who observed the first of three classes, believes that "these author visits are invaluable to our students as they seek to find their voices as young writers. Reading a text and then having the opportunity to interact with the author opens a door to insights in the narrative that we would otherwise never have." English teacher, Anne Phaneuf agrees, "There is nothing more powerful for students than hearing from authors themselves about how stories come to life. These visits demonstrate for students the importance of personal voice and the value of a well-crafted piece of writing."
Spearheading so much of our joint efforts is Maggie Sullivan, Middle and High School Librarian, "The authors that have come to Nantucket under the sponsorship of the Nantucket Book Foundation have clearly addressed the needs of our increasingly diverse student population. Their stories have painted for readers the difficulty in adjusting to new and challenging surroundings, while also embracing the wonderful array of perspectives and abilities that weave the fabric of our humanity."
Perhaps no one was more struck by the impactful nature of this school visit than the author herself. Morowa was left with this impression: "The imaginative spirit of Nantucket is as passionate and humbling as the ocean that surrounds it. Nowhere else is there such a mixture of intellect, art, and discovery--all floating in a suspension of vision, effort, and hope."
Folger Shakespeare Library, Wash DC, Sept 2016
photo by Sarah Fillman
Washington D.C. native Morowa Yejidé’s novel Time of the Locust was a 2012 finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize, longlisted for the 2015 PEN/Bingham award, and a 2015 NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work. Her short stories appeared in the Adirondack Review, the Istanbul Review, and others. Her short story "Tokyo Chocolate" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, anthologized by Britain's best of the Willesden Herald, and praised by the Japan Times. She received her MFA from Wilkes University and is currently a PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools author. She lives in the D.C. area with her husband and three sons.
photo by Sarah Fillman
"Yejidé is poised to make her mark with a novel that might be described as one of family connection—but encompasses so much more... When that father, Horus, develops supernatural abilities and connects with his son, strange and powerful things happen, but the focus is less on fantasy than on the fantastic power of love to bind and protect us." —Washingtonian Magazine
"At times almost mystical in its intensity, Yejidé’s prose brings lyricism to her dark subject matter and unhappy characters, eventually introducing a kind of magical restoration to her shattered fictional family."
— Kirkus Reviews
"Beautiful prose conveys the sadness and fractured selves of these characters, who are both strong and fragile. The depth of pain can make for difficult reading, but the rendering of Sephiri’s interior life, in particular, is arresting, and the novel is challenging and memorable." — Publishers Weekly
“Arrayed against seven kinds of imprisonment—autism, gluttony, self-hate, inanition, racism, vengefulness, and a fiendish species of incarceration in a supermax Colorado prison—in this auspicious debut novel, stands the volitional force of unfettered love. Morowa Yejidé’s depiction of the inner world of the parents of an autistic child (the father unfairly imprisoned and the mother sagging under the load of single parentage) is rendered with compassionate aplomb; her brilliant depiction of the mental weather of their autistic son is matchless. Time of the Locust is a rich and rewarding story of redemption for those who believe, as the poet Richard Lovelace wrote, “Stone walls do not a prison make.”— J. Michael Lennon, author of Norman Mailer: A Double Life
"A superb debut work of magic realism and finalist for the Pen/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction, this is the book for you, your friends and your book club."
— Ebony Magazine Entertainment & Culture
"There are characters who hook you from the second you meet them on the page. Sephiri, the autistic boy at the heart of Time of the Locust is one of them. In this moving debut, author Morowa Yejidé creates a protagonist who finds comfort in an imaginary world filled with sea creatures that help him cope with the "real world." — Essence Magazine
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