17 December 2014: Two acclaimed writers give public lectures at Yale-NUS

Written by Jacqueline Su | Image by Public Affairs 

Earlier this semester, Yale-NUS College welcomed two acclaimed writers as part of the President’s Speaker Series. On 15 October 2014, Ms Aimee Nezhukumatahil gave a poetry reading, while Mr Geoff Dyer visited on 5 November 2014 for workshops and a lecture.

From chemistry to literature

Ms Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a poet and a Professor of English at State University of New York-Fredonia. She is the author of three collections of poetry: Miracle Fruit (2003), At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), and Lucky Fish (2011).

Ms Nezhukumatathil gave a poetry reading on a range of diverse topics: her mixed Filipino and Indian heritage, relationship to nature, and her anticipation as a mother for her toddler son. After her reading, she took questions from the audience and spoke about her inspirations for her poems and her motivation for becoming a poet.

“I didn’t know you could write about such unique smells and tastes and sensations that you don’t have to know the person [to] feel and experience,” she said of her journey into poetry. “But before that, I had my mind set on chemistry, chemistry, chemistry.”

She added with a laugh: “I should have known better that during those chemistry lectures, I was saying to myself ‘hexavalent chromium’ and I was thinking the name sounded beautiful but I wasn’t paying attention to the lab reports.”

During her visit to campus, Ms Nezhukmatahil also hosted a writing workshop where she asked participants to write about a character of a person with certain phobias.

Tse Hao Guang, a Dean’s Fellow working at the Yale-NUS Writers’ Centre, said, “I find Aimee’s work and her choice of themes for the workshop very interesting. You don’t usually think about phobias as something you want to write about and it was fascinating to hear from a living author. Although she’s American, her parents are from different parts of Asia so she has very interesting perspectives.”

Using art to tell a tale

Yale-NUS also welcomed British author, Geoff Dyer. Mr Dyer is the author of a number of books such as But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz (1991), Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It (2003), The Ongoing Moment (2009), and, most recently, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush (2014).

Mr Dyer was also a speaker at the 2014 Singapore Writers Festival, where he helmed an hour-long discussion with Yale-NUS Director of the Writers’ Centre, Professor Robin Hemley. The pair spoke on Mr Dyer’s writing style and his presence as a character in his essay-writing, while fielding questions from the packed house about his inspirations, writing techniques, and dark humour.

At his Yale-NUS talk on 5 November 2014, Dyer read a piece of writing called “White Sands”, a story set in the American West.

As he introduced his piece, Mr Dyer noted, “I’ve always liked writing essays about works of art that have moved me deeply, but I’ve always felt that I didn’t want to write about them in a straight-down-the-line essayistic way. I wanted quite often to use them as a way of telling stories.”

He encouraged his audience to examine the line between fiction and non-fiction as he read his part-story, part-essay to the enraptured audience.

After his reading, Mr Dyer took questions on his writing process and then did an encore reading from one of his books to much applause.

Next semester, Yale-NUS continues its efforts to bring liberal arts to the community through the President’s Speaker Series public lectures featuring two Nobel Laureates, Professor Brian Schmidt and Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, and award-winning poet, Ms Jane Hirshfield, among many others.