On Thursday, Oct. 6, Newcomer 19 was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. No, this was not another Hour After, nor was it a Campus Life dance party.The English department was holding the first Writing the World event—an event that featured four internationally-acclaimed and famed writers: Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Aminatta Forna, John Freeman, and Aleksander Hemon.
The night focused on “reading and writing, writers and readers, and literature around the world,” as Allfrey described it.
For the fall semester, Goshen College is hosting visiting professor Allfrey, a prominent figure in England’s literary world. Allfrey graduated from Goshen in 1988, and went on to be a 2015 judge of the Man Booker Prize as well as deputy editor of Granta, a London-based literary journal. With her high prestige, Allfrey was able to bring Freeman, Hemon, and Forna onto the GC campus for this one-time event.
Freeman was a former editor of Granta, but after leaving the journal in 2013, he moved back to New York and began his own publication, entitled Freeman’s.
Allfrey kicked off the evening by addressing Freeman, commenting that his journal publishes writers from everywhere; Freeman’s does not limit itself to just the U.S.
“In general, we live under a series of narratives that are often so invisible we start to take them for granted, and one of them is the fiction of essential differences between nationalities,” said Freeman. “We are sitting here in the United States and we are fundamentally different than Syrians or Sierra Leoneans or Russians.”
He continued, expressing the need in Anglo-American literature for a work that places writers of different nationalities within the same binding.
“Narrative is a way of understanding the world. Religion is a form of narrative, nationality is a narrative, family is a narrative,” Freeman said, commenting on his choice of “family” as the center theme for the latest issue of Freeman’s.
“The stories that we tell in families then become the stories we tell within a nation,” said Allfrey.
Allfrey then turned the conversation towards Hemon and Forna, asking them about the transformation of fact to experience. Both Hemon and Forna have essays in the latest issue of Freeman’s.
“Narritizaton is not just organizing facts, it’s organizing experience,” Hemon said. “Experience is not available without narrative.”
Hemon is native to Bosnia, and moved to Chicago in 1992. Since the move, Hemon has written multiple books and received the MacArthur Genius Award in 2004.
Forna is from Scotland and Sierra Leone and is currently working at Georgetown University. She has authored multiple books, as well as had her essays published by many literary journals.
“I think the best thing you can do, as a writer, is offer an alternative narrative,” said Forna. “Fiction is the only way to examine multiple narratives within the same framework.”
She continued, saying, “Nonfiction reveals the lies, but only metaphor can tell the truth.”
The discussion continued, touching more deeply on the essays Hemon and Forna wrote for Freeman’s as well as how Freeman worked with them, extracting the essays from casual storytelling.