Fresh off winning a prestigious prize in London for her first collection of poetry, Tiphanie Yanique will share her writing Oct. 6 with local residents and University of Houston-Victoria students.
Yanique, winner of the Forward Felix Dennis Prize for her 2015 book “Wife,” also is the author of the novel “Land of Love and Drowning” and short story collection “How to Escape from a Leper Colony.” In 2014, Yanique was named one of the “5 Under 35” authors chosen by the National Book Foundation.
“Being among the finalists for the top poetry prize in England was just incredible and surreal because I’m known mostly as a fiction writer in the U.S.,” she said. “I started out as a poet, so it felt gratifying to be recognized in this really big way for my poetry.”
A professor in the Master of Fine Arts program at the New School in New York City and a graduate of the UH creative writing program, Yanique will be the 92nd author to come to Victoria for the UHV/American Book Review Reading Series. She will talk at noon Oct. 6 in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event is free and open to the public.
“Tiphanie Yanique is a rising star in the literary world with a gift for her intimate portrayal of people,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and ABR editor and publisher. “Her stories and poems often are emotionally gripping, and they always are beautifully written. I’m delighted our students and community members will have a chance to visit with her.”
“Wife” explores domestic relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, and siblings. The book challenges the ideas of what words like “wife,” “home” and “family” mean. Yanique explores the complex historical traditions of those terms.
She accepted the Felix Dennis Prize Sept. 20 at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Malika Booker, a writer, multidisciplinary artist and chair of this year’s judging panel, presented her with the prize.
“‘Wife’ is a generous and witty book, an agile exploration of the many relationships within marriage,” Booker said at the ceremony. “She has written a delightful exploration of the tensions and complexity of matrimony, in language that’s deceptively simple.”
Yanique said even by definition, wives are secondary to the primary spousal unit of husbands.
“I think it’s an important book because it’s about a specific kind of womanhood that I think in our culture is often a secondary figure,” Yanique said. “In our role as wives, our careers and a lot of our values, especially those that are about strength and striving, are sometimes made to be put into the background. It’s an unusual institution for a woman in the modern era.”
Yanique is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the setting for “Land of Love and Drowning.” The novel chronicles three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s.
In the early 1900s, an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea, just as the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule. Orphaned by the sunk vessel are two sisters and their half-brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.
In alternating short chapters, Yanique uses a playful third-person narrator and first person from each of the children. Their story is interwoven with both the folklore and history of the island, as well as stories about hurricanes, wartime and love.
Like “Wife,” Yanique doesn’t shy away from intimate moments or uncomfortable situations.
“I am aware of this kind of vulnerability the reader has when they enter into a novel or collection of poems,” Yanique said. “I want to be sensitive to that. The way I try to do that is not by writing more gentle material or pretending that life should be rosier. The way I honor the reality that life is challenging is trying to be as loving to my characters and personas as possible. I try to portray the problematic characters as being complex, as having their own visions about the world.”
In the afterword, Yanique mentions her novel is in response to “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” a 1965 book by Herman Wouk that became the go-to book for Americans and other visitors to read about the Virgin Islands. That book is not a good representation of who Virgin Islanders are, and she wanted to show the other side of that story.
“In the Virgin Islands, we’ve always had writers,” Yanique said. “We’ve had self-published narratives about Virgin Island culture. It’s only recently that writers who are doing this are getting attention from the outside. The idea that the Virgin Islands is a place worthy of study is beginning to change. My book is maybe a part of that change.”
Other writers scheduled for the fall UHV/ABR Reading Series are:
John E. Woods, Nov. 3 – Woods won both the 1981 American Book Award and PEN award for his translation of Arno Schmidt’s “Evening Edged in Gold” and has published a new translation of Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks.” He also is the translator of Schmidt’s “Collected Novellas,” “Two Novels: The Stony Heart and B/Moondocks,” “Collected Stories” and “Nobodaddy’s Children,” all of which are available from Dalkey Archive Press housed at UHV. He lives in Berlin.
Monica Drake, Dec. 1 – Monica Drake has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona and teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Her debut novel, “Clown Girl,” was published by independent press Hawthorne Books and has won an Eric Hoffer Award as well as an Independent Publisher Book Award. It’s been translated into Italian and recently was optioned for a film by Kristen Wiig. Drake’s most recent novel, “The Stud Book,” is now out.
ABR is published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2007 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.
For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.