What We’re Up To This Month:In my first semester of graduate school, nearly a decade ago now, I signed up for Helon Habila’s Writers in Non-Native Places literature class. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Helon had just returned from a year in Berlin on a prestigious DAAD fellowship and was at work on what would become the novel Travelers. The book, which was published in 2019 to enormous acclaim, focuses on a Nigerian scholar who moves to Berlin with his American wife, an artist, in the hopes of saving his marriage. Through his encounters with the African immigrants his wife paints, and later through his own precarious, multi-continent journey, he becomes increasingly alienated—from his marriage, from his sense of home and identity, from humanity writ large. Travelers is beautiful, disorienting, hopeful.
Like many writers who also teach for a living, Helon designs his courses around the ideas he’s currently grappling with in his own work. In our lit class back in 2014, we read eight books, all of them wrestling with themes of exile and nostalgia, all of them excellent. The popular “global lit” novels I had read up until then—Rushdie, Roy, Hosseini, etc.—were essentially epic morality tales, but Helon taught our class to consider a subtler perspective. Migration is more bewildering than epic for his characters, who, like rag dolls, are pushed and pulled by enormous, invisible forces into uncanny futures.
It’s through generous funding from Alice Walton’s Art Bridges Foundation, which brings major art works to rural communities, that Helon will visit Easton on Friday, September 9, to discuss Travelers with the wonderful Matt Davis, Founding Director of the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center. Helon’s talk is presented in conjunction with the Academy Art Museum’s Fickle Mirror self-portraiture exhibition, which features the work “I Refuse To Be Invisible” by Nigerian American artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Of this work, Helon says:
“I see a lot of similarities between Crosby’s work and that of the third generation Nigerian writers, a group to which I belong. Both of us came of age decades after Nigerian independence in 1960, and our work mostly centers on travel and identity—particularly on the hybrid nature of our cultural experiences. Crosby embraces her Nigerian culture, as well as her colonial, Western influences. The very title of this work, I Refuse To Be Invisible, is a bold statement against the more tradition-minded critics, who would reject anything Western, and a comment against the modernists, who see nothing beautiful in tradition. My most current novel, Travelers, tries to do the same thing in so many ways.”
You can listen to Helon's full-length reflection on Crosby's portrait by clicking here.
Helon’s talk begins at 6:00. AAM Curator Mehves Lelic will give a spotlight tour of Crosby’s portrait afterwards, and there is a reception for Shore Lit subscribers beforehand, beginning at 5:00—enjoy a drink, get your book signed, and gather with other lit-minded neighbors. Special thanks to our friends at the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore for providing book sales. I hope to see many of you there!
What Else I’m Reading:
Instead of sharing my own picks this month, I’m passing on the book list from Helon’s Writers in Non-Native Places course. If you’re interested in a deep dive into the themes of migration, alienation, travel, and/or transcendental homelessness, this list is a great place to start:
What Else I’m Looking Forward to in August:
Shore Shakespeare @ Adkins Arboretum, Ridgely
2:00 Saturday & Sunday, September 2 & 3
After two years of pandemic hiatus, the plein air Shakespeare company is back with Measure To Measure.
Radiant Material Opening Reception @ Kohl Gallery, Washington College, Chestertown
4:30-6:30 Thursday, September 15
The Kohl Gallery’s fall exhibition features several regional artists who are working with light.
Book Discussion: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster @ Talbot County Free Library Easton Branch
6:00 Wednesday, September 26
Gather with our local community of readers to discuss this year’s One Maryland One Book selection.
Chesapeake Film Festival Environmental Films Showcase @ Avalon Theater, Easton
6:20 Friday, September 30
The screening will feature three short documentary films addressing the current state of local waterways and a panel discussion with the filmmakers.
Support Shore Lit's Programs:
One of our core values is building inclusive community. For that reason, Shore Lit events are always free. To keep them that way, we are grateful to newsletter subscribers like you who help fund our programs. If you have the means and you value our mission of bringing literary authors to the Eastern Shore, please consider a $25 gift to support the Fall 2022 program. If you have more or less to offer, we are grateful for your generosity; no gift is too big or too small. If you aren’t in a position to offer monetary support, you remain a crucial part of this community, and we thank all of you for your consideration.
Shore Lit aims to enhance cultural offerings on the Eastern Shore with free community author events. This newsletter is written by Shore Lit Founder and Director Kerry Folan.