Hanya Yanagihara at UEA Live

This week, Norwich was lucky to be the only UK city to host a reading event with famed American writer Hanya Yanagihara. As part of the UEA Live reading series, Yanagihara came to talk about her latest book To Paradise and the on-stage adaptation of her second and most popular novel, A Little Life.

Yanagihara is one of my favourite authors, so you can imagine my surprise and excitement to see that she would speak at my university. She spoke in conversation with Georgina Godwin about her work, her own background, and the balance of working as a magazine editor while writing fiction. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Hawaii, Yanagihara is of Japanese and Korean heritage. Her first novel The People in the Trees and her most recent To Paradise both involve the theme of American imperialism in South Pacific islands. While not of Hawaiian heritage herself, Yanagihara spoke of how her upbringing on the islands gave her a sense of what this history meant to the island and how, as someone of Asian heritage, she was part of a majority population.

The talk then segued into elements of craft in Yanagihara’s famously long books. In To Paradise she wrote about a dystopian future telling the audience that when writing a dystopia the writer needs to answer two questions: 1) is there more or less technology than in the present and 2) is it hot or cold. This made me think that many of the dystopian novels that we’ve seen in recent years fall neatly into these categories, even though as readers we often get lost in all the details that make the dystopian world appear different than our own. I was struck by the simplicity with which Yanigihara discussed her approach to writing given that I admire her books for the manner in which she weaves together complicated characters and social issues.

Finally the discussion ended on the American nature of Yanagihara’s work. As an American writing about my home country while living and working in England, it was great to hear how Yanagihara explained her view of Americana in her work to a foreign audience. I often find that I need to remember some parts of American history and culture that I reference in my work are not common knowledge to someone who did not grow up in the States. Godwin shared a quote from the Guardian in which American novelist Edmund White said Yanagihara ‘is chronicling her country just as panoramically as Tolstoy did his.’ I understood this to refer to the way in which Yanagihara writes about the ideas of identity, nationalism, imperialism, gender, sexuality, class, property, and social mobility across her novels while focusing on individuals who bring these broad topics into view through a compelling character. Yanagihara went on to talk about her own interest in writing American stories as they reflect the youth of the nation and the ideal of the American Dream, which offers rich context for her characters.

Having read all three of Yanagihara’s novels, it was an absolute treat to hear her discuss these texts. Now I can look forward to her next work with anticipation of how these themes will be reinvented again with her lyric prose and engrossing narratives.

Written by American Scholar Lauren Cortese

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Black History Month at AML

February marks Black History Month in the United States, so we are proud to celebrate this heritage month and honour African American history at AML. All year we feature a collection of books by African American authors, biographies about African American figures, and non-fiction texts detailing African American history. This includes history dating back to enslavement of Africans in the United States, the end of slavery and beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, and the continued efforts for racial equality as seen in the Black Lives Matter movement today.

This year, we were lucky to host an event that looked at the history of African American service members in WWII stationed right here in Norfolk. UEA graduate of American Studies Joel Young presented a talk titled The Forgotten Chorus which told the story of an African American gospel choir that began in England during WWII. Joel detailed how the chorus began, the prominence they achieved, and the experiences of African American troops in a still segregated military service.

It was great to hear this lesser known history that took place in Norfolk and impacted the lives of so many. These ‘hidden histories’ offer an insight into the experiences of WWII that have not been popularised on the big screen or taught as part of the school curriculum. A highlight of Joel’s talk was the extent of primary documents he was able to find to tell this story. His presentation included many photographs from service records as well as an audio clip of a performance by the choir at Prince Albert Hall.

Please take the time to enjoy Joel’s talk yourself by watching a recording available on YouTube. You can view the recording here.

This post was written by American Scholar Lauren Cortese

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Meeting Rex, the new UEA American Scholar

Hello everyone! I’m excited for the opportunity to introduce myself and look forward to getting to know more of you, both in person and through this blog. I have been at the American Library about three months and have loved meeting patrons and exploring the unique memorial and impressive collection so far.

A little background information on myself now: I grew up mostly in the western United States, in Seattle and Salt Lake City, though I also have lived in California, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and Virginia for various amounts of time. I have also lived in a few other countries including Chile, Italy, and now, the UK.

Educationally, my background is in Economics, Chemistry, Medicine, Comparative Literature and Creative Writing. I attended the MA in Creative Writing at UEA in 2020 and am now pursuing the PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. I had a great experience in Norwich and I am happy to be here again.

My PhD project is an excerpt from a novel and critical component investigating the novel as knowledge and creative writing’s place within academia. I am passionate about writing and love all sorts of writers from various backgrounds. I am always happy to talk about books, so feel free to chat with me about your favorite writers and novels, short stories and poetry!

In my free time, I love to play basketball, noodle on the guitar, lift, draw and cook. I am excited to share some (hopefully) interesting posts on the blog and to meet as many of you as possible in person. Until then!


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A Night at the Movies: Horror Noire Screening with AML

This week AML hosted a screening of the documentary Horror Noire featuring Professor Robin R Means Coleman whose book of the same title inspired the film. Horror Noire details the history and impact of Black American representation and involvement in the horror movie genre. Actors, directors, writers, and academics spoke in the film about how blackness functions in horror films, in particular in response to racism throughout American history. The film included clips of famous Black horror films including Blacula, Get Out, and Candyman to showcase how different eras of horror films represented blackness. After the viewing, Professor Means Coleman answered questions from the audience and continued the discussions that were raised during the film.

While not a scholar of film (as well as a bona fide scaredy-cat who watches most horror films with my eyes shut) I found this documentary extremely entertaining. I was most interested to learn about how Black representation in horror films evolved from the 1940s through to present day. Speakers in the film discussed how early representations of blackness in horror relied on racist, negative depictions of Black Americans from the era of enslavement and Jim Crowe laws in the United States. A turning point came in the 1960s and 1970s when more films featuring Black actors as monster and victim were made. Later in the 1990s and 2000s horror films finally depicted Black characters as the hero of the film who is able to survive or perhaps even defeat the monster.

One aspect of the film that was interesting to see was how horror could be used to represent political issues in the United States related to race. These films could reflect the real-life horrors that Black Americans have faced in a way that was entertaining and offered an escape from the news stories of how people of color in the US were being treated. In this way, the horror genre could be used as an outlet for Black creators of film and actors to present those real-life fears in a method that is separate from reality.

After the viewing, Professor Means Coleman answered audience questions about the horror genre, Black representation, and what the future of horror noire may be. Audiences were particularly interested in the films of Jordan Peele, the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his 2017 horror film Get Out. As one of the most recent successes in Black horror filmmaking, Peele’s movies had fans in the audience who were interested in discussion how he uses nuance and contemporary discussions around race, technology, and politics to develop his narratives.

Overall, the film screening was a great event. Horror Noire was both entertaining and informative. To have Professor Means Coleman available to answer our questions and further our understanding of the film was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this genre and where it might be headed in the future.

Horror Noire is produced by Shudder Films. You can find it on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. The book that inspired the film, also called Horror Noire, by Professor Robin R Means Coleman is available on Amazon or at the American Library.

Post by American Scholar Lauren Cortese

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