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Stories and memories from the hearth

Stories and memories from the hearth

When you think of the word “home,” do you think of just a physical place where you live or do you see it more as a space of belonging and comfort, where memories are made and lives are shared? 

The 14th Annual Great Writers, Great Readings: This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home took place in the Leo A. Guthart Cultural Center Theater on Thursday, Feb. 22. 

The event was centered around the recently published anthology “This Is the Place,” a collection of personal essays written by 30 strong, independent female writers exploring the theme of home through their neighbors, marriages, children, etc. 

Three of these writers spoke at the event: Kelly McMasters, Sonya Chung and Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas. 

The evening started with McMasters as she introduced herself and read a short passage from her essay that was featured in “This Is the Place.” 

McMasters is a professor in the undergraduate and MFA writing programs as well as the director of Publishing Studies at Hofstra. Besides being a co-editor of “This Is the Place,” McMasters also has her own piece published within this anthology. 

“As we got older, moving out of homes where we thought we’d be forever or feeling stuck in places we didn’t mean to be for so long, we realized that home is a loaded word and a complex idea,” McMasters said. It’s a place that is safe, sentimental, difficult, nourishing, war-torn and political. There are so many ways to define it.” 

McMasters also mentioned how home can take on an ancestral meaning as well as a place where you feel your soul belongs. 

Therefore, home could really be a multitude of things and take on so many meanings depending on the person who gives it meaning. 

“Like the rooms within a house, the essays in this collection inhabit the interspace, the thoughts, memories, emotions, questions and meditations with which we envision and embody the idea of home,” McMasters said. 

“In this regard, it is not surprising that these essays connect to so many of the issues now at the forefront of our conversations: immigration, gender equality, sexual and family violence, homelessness and poverty.”

After this introduction, McMasters read a section from her essay in “This Is the Place” titled “The Leaving Season,” in which she wrote about one of the most beautiful places she’s ever seen, in Northeast Pennsylvania, where she lived for a short time. In this essay, McMasters focused on the struggle of feeling like she did not belong while she lived there. 

After reading from her personal essay, McMasters introduced Chung, an accomplished author best known for her work titled “The Loved Ones,” which was a Kirkus Best Fiction of 2016 selection. She also is a professor of Writing at Skidmore College.

Chung read her piece published in “This Is the Place” which was humorously and appropriately titled “Size Matters.” This is an essay about living in a small place and making it home. In it, Chung states, “small is home.” 

She then discussed how on the surface level, people tend to associate something that’s small with something that’s bad, cheap or poor. But, in other cases, small can actually refer to things that are beautiful, special, comforting and luxurious. 

Later in the essay, Chung delved into very personal pieces of her life, talking about her home life growing up and about the isolation and loneliness surrounding her father. 

Chung’s essay was humorous, heartwarming, personal, passionate and vulnerable all at the same time.

After Chung read “Size Matters,” McMasters introduced Cabeza-Vanegas, another well-respected female writer whose work was featured in “This Is the Place.” 

She is best known for her collection of translations, essays and short stories titled “Don’t Come Back.” In this anthology she explored the Colombian civil conflict. 

Currently Cabeza-Vanegas is the assistant professor of Creative Nonfiction at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

“I know what it’s like growing up in a country that people tell you is shit. I know what it’s like growing up thinking that might be what you are,”Cabeza-Vanegas said.

Perhaps one of the most impactful statements Cabeza-Vanegas made while she was speaking at the event was, “the value of a human life is not equivalent to the GDP of their country.” This was extremely effective in portraying home as political. 

She then read her essay, “The Man Walks In and Removes His Hat,” which was about a conversation at her grandmother’s house about the devil.

After these readings, the event concluded with a panel discussion amongst the authors. During this time, they discussed the art of nonfiction writing and their experiences working on this anthology. 

Overall, this event was a great opportunity to hear from some very powerful female writers and how they incorporate their meaningful life experiences into their nonfiction writing.

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