Author uses character clashes to highlight immigrant struggles
Julie Iromuanya, an author and assistant professor of creative writing and English at the University of Arizona, has wanted to be a writer her whole life, so much so that she had her own little office with a typewriter as a child.
Iromuanya will be the next presenter in the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series. She will read from her first novel, “Mr. and Mrs. Doctor,” at 11 a.m. April 11 in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event is free and open to the public.
“Julie Iromuanya has brought the struggles of immigrants into the forefront with her first novel,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, ABR editor and publisher, and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “Her work reminds readers that the U.S. still is seen as a land of opportunity to others, but the struggles to reach those opportunities can be severe.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Doctor,” tells the story of Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage starting a life together in Nebraska. Job is a college dropout, but he is pretending to be a doctor. The book evolved from one of Iromuanya’s short stories. When she was doing her graduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she took a novel-writing workshop, and questions from her classmates about the story and characters pushed her to expand the original narrative into a book.
“I realized that the story needed a larger scope than what was available through its current format,” she said. “When I first took the class, I almost panicked because I was so used to writing short pieces. But through that experience, I was able to draft my first novel.”
The inspiration for the characters and story came from many different places. Job evolved from a character sketch Iromuanya created of a bumbling immigrant who has a great deal of pride in himself. Job’s wife, Ifi, was inspired by a girl Iromuanya met during a trip to Nigeria. Julie recognized that for someone like this girl, an advantageous marriage might be one of the only ways she could advance from poor circumstances.
“I thought it would be interesting to take these two people, who are not particularly well suited for each other, and put them into a marriage,” Iromuanya said. “They are immigrants in an environment that is unfamiliar and sometimes hostile, and they are forced to work through that.”
In addition to the circumstances of the main characters, the story interrogates aspects of American culture. It looks at the struggles of African Americans as well as the discrimination faced by immigrants, who are seen as marginal members of a small society, such as a town in the Midwest.
During her presentation, Iromuanya wants attendees to enjoy her story, but she also hopes they will connect with her characters.
“If they can identify with my story in a crucial and beneficial way, it will help the readers move through their days and encounter the world differently,” she said. “I want them to feel nourished by my work and identify with the struggles that the characters face.”
The final writer in the spring UHV/ABR Reading Series will be Joseph Tabbi, who will visit UHV on May 2. Tabbi is the author of “Cognitive Fictions” and “Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk.” His biography of William Gaddis, “Nobody Grew But the Business,” was a runner-up for the biography/memoir award from the Chicago Society of Midland Authors. Most recently, he received the N. Katherine Hayles Award for the “Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature.”
ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2006 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.
Authors are available after each reading to sign copies of their books. Each author also meets with students and attends a community reception.
For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.