A fascinating author and her powerful memoir are the focus at Wednesday’s Authors Uncovered at the Wilkinson Public Library.
Award-winning writer Nadia Owusu and her book, “Aftershocks: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Identity,” feature at the event, which includes a writers workshop from 2-4 p.m., followed by a book talk and signing by Owusu at 6 p.m.
A collaboration between the library and Between the Covers Bookstore, Authors Uncovered is the popular, long-running series that brings writers and their written work to town for celebration and examination.
Selected as a best book of the year by Vulture, Amazon, Esquire and Time, “Aftershocks” tells of the story of Owusu’s childhood.
Her father, a United Nations official, moved the family multiple times between Europe and Africa. Just as Owusu settled into a new home, it was time to move again.
The instability brought on by this nomadic existence was intensified by family upheaval. Owusu’s Armenian-American mother abandoned Nadia when she was only two years old, briefly reappearing in her daughter’s life from time to time, only to leave again.
Owusu’s father, a Ghanaian described as “the great hero of her life,” died when Owusu was 13. His passing was followed by still more upheaval with the unveiling of family secrets.
Owusu said that she saw writing the memoir as a way to process this early trauma and attempt to understand how trauma affects both people and communities.
“I started writing ‘Aftershocks’ as a private project,” she explained. “I realized that I had never fully allowed myself to grieve being abandoned by my mother when I was two and my father’s death when I was 13.”
Owusu continued, “What I learned through writing, and through my research, is that repressing trauma doesn’t work. Reading and writing can connect us to feelings we have buried and to our communities.”
In the book, Owusu also explores the concepts of home and family, identity and belonging.
“Like many writers, I write to think through questions that I’m carrying,” she said. “One of those questions is who am I in the world? Where do I fit into the histories of my family? Especially because I grew up outside of my parents’ cultures — Ghanaian and Armenian — I wanted a deeper understanding of where they came from.”
So, Owusu began to research her parents and where they came from.
“While researching ‘Aftershocks,’ I learned a lot about the Ashanti tribe — my father’s tribe,” she said. “I had experienced some of the customs and observed them, but I didn’t always know what they meant. On my mother’s side, my family are descendants of the Armenian genocide. My great-grandparents came to America as refugees. Because I was not raised among my mother’s family, except for some summer holidays, I didn’t really know that history.”
This, in turn, led to greater understanding — and more.
“Doing the research made me feel more connected to my families,” Owusu said. “It helped me to understand the forces that shaped my life, and to connect my private pain, hopes and dreams to those of my ancestors. I began writing from a place of grief, but I found I was really writing toward love, forgiveness and connection.”
With the book, did she hope to encourage others to think about dealing with their own trauma?
“Yes,” Owusu said. “It has meant a great deal to me to hear from people who saw themselves in ‘Aftershocks,’ even though on the surface their lives and backgrounds were often very different from mine. I have always had an awareness that we carry history in our bodies, that we are our history, living and breathing. I hope that sharing my journey of reckoning with my own histories and the most difficult events of my life can help others.”
Owusu is a Brooklyn-based writer and urban planner and the recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award. Her lyric essay “So Devilish a Fire” won the Atlas Review chapbook contest. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Granta, the Guardian, Bon Appétit and more.
“Aftershocks” is her first book.
Library adult programs specialist Laura Colbert said she is excited to have a writer of Owusu’s stature participate in Authors Uncovered.
“Nadia’s memoir is masterfully written and has been lauded by some very big media outlets,” Colbert said. “It's a chance to get to hear from an author who is really, really good at her craft. We get to hear the story of a woman of color who drifted across continents growing up and into adulthood trying to create roots and figure out where she fits in. She brings the larger world into Telluride and offers a different perspective on the meaning of family, home and identity.”
The first 10 people who stop by the library to sign up for the event receive a free copy of the book, Colbert added.
Who would she recommend the writers workshop to?
“Anyone,” Colbert said. “It's free and the community of writers we have here is very supportive. You will be stretched if you are an established writer, but supported and encouraged if you are just starting out.”
Said Owusu of the workshop, “Together, we will explore the stories we carry in our bodies and practice strategies for wrestling with, and perhaps even reimagining them, on the page. And we will talk about approaches to developing book manuscripts.”
For more, go to telluridelibrary.org/events, or stop by the library.