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Editor's Note: In this issue, we’re spotlighting MFA alumni in recognition of the ASU Creative Writing Program 30th anniversary celebration. We’ll highlight alumni from other areas in future editions. Stay tuned.
Three graduates of ASU’s MFA in Creative Writing Program were awarded Fulbright Fellowships for 2015-16.
Naomi Telushkin (MFA 2015) was awarded a Creative Writing Fulbright Fellowship in Singapore, where she’ll work on a television script. “The series is an hour-long drama about the expat finance scene in Singapore, and also Asia: Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo,” she said. “My focus is on the few women, both expat and local, in top roles in business in Singapore. I'll also be teaching creative writing at the National University of Singapore.” (Photo/courtesy Telushkin)
Allegra Hyde (MFA 2015), who was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Bulgaria, will help with the language program in the ‘Prof. D-r Asen Zlatarov’ Foreign Language High School in Haskovo, Bulgaria. “The position is part-time,” she said, “so I'll have plenty of research time to write, read, and explore.” (Photo/courtesy Hyde)
Todd Fredson (MFA 2007) was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to the Ivory Coast in West Africa to pursue a project to translate contemporary West African poets. Prior to his MFA studies at ASU, he served in the Peace Corps, living in a village in the Ivory Coast during the unrest that led to the country's civil wars. His Fulbright project will pick up that thread. (Photo/courtesy Fredson)
We caught up with Fredson to talk about his work in more detail.
►What will your project be? Please describe it for us.
FREDSON: I'm going to the Ivory Coast to translate poetry collections with three poets who are there. Azo Vauguy, Josué Guébo, and Tanella Boni have all published poetry collections borne out of their experiences of the civil conflict that has dominated life in the Ivory Coast since the turn of the century—Zakwato, Mon pays, ce soir, and L’Avenir a rendez-vous avec l’aube, respectively.
Zakwato is a Beté myth that Vauguy worked for twenty-five years to translate out of its oral keeping and ethnic language into written French. A single, book-length poem, it was published in 2009 just as a reconciliation agreement ended the Ivory Coast’s first civil war. The book is dedicated to, amongst others, then-president Laurent Gbagbo who, following the long-deferred presidential election in 2011, would be forcibly removed from office by French and UN troops. Vauguy’s poem is ideologically positioned but far from propaganda. The poem tells the story of a man trusted by his village to watch for an enemy. The man falls asleep and his village is ambushed. Upon waking, he is faced with the massacre. Bereft, he begins his journey toward a distant smith who will remove his eyelids so that Zakwato’s vigilance never again softens.
Like Vauguy, Josué Guébo is interested in representing regional and ethnic cultures. In Mon pays, ce soir (My country, tonight), Guébo relates and separates the conditions of Ivorian modernity with the histories of struggles elsewhere in Africa. He transits between cities in the Ivory Coast and sites of colonial violence abroad—Bouaké to Kinshasa, Abidjan to Gorée. Guébo observes the site-specific consequences of a neocolonialism that Kwame Nkrumah forecasted as the last stage of Imperialism in Africa.
Tanella Boni is part of a group of writers who have transitioned African poetry away from such littérature engagée. She approaches the violence with philosophical rigor. L’Avenir a rendez-vous avec l’aube (The future has an appointment with the dawn) took Boni ten years to write, but developed toward spare lyricism. Offering meditations on her country’s violence, she ranges beyond Ivorian and African references. L’Avenir a rendez-vous avec l’aube considers the possibility of even finding speech in the wake of catastrophes such as the Ivorian war and its ethnic violence. Divided into two sections, “Land of Hope” and “The Assassinated Life,” her collection associatively orbits around two paintings, Eugène Delacroix’s “The Massacre at Chios” and Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.” Boni considers the ethnic and cultural irruption as an event that transgresses the logic of history, and yet shows how history tapers, seemingly inevitably, toward these recurring points of conflict—where the future has an appointment with the dawn, perhaps, as the title suggests.
►What drew you to the project and this region?
FREDSON: Two things: my love of, long immersion in, and dedication to poetry, and my two plus years of Peace Corps service in the Ivory Coast. This is, in many ways, a continuation of informal research done while living there as revolutions and coups transitioned into the first civil war, which began two months after I left. That was nearly fourteen years ago now, and I began wondering how those years of ethnic violence and war were being aesthetically represented.
►What do you hope to experience in your time there?
FREDSON: Having lived in a village for a few years, I have a strong sense of rural and subsistence living. I hope to make relationships with folks in the educated class—academics, scholars, reporters, etc.—who are creating political, social, and literary narratives during this period of postcolonial rupture, who are actively shaping second-wave independence movements. African modernity is rarely distinguished by its local contingencies. I hope to bring some of these contingencies to light. To that end, I hope to find poets in the north, as the conflict has been a north/south divide, and each of the three poets I am working with are in the south. Their location is part of what makes it easy-ish to find and work with them, but that access to production, to distribution, etc. is largely what the civil war has been about—the north doesn’t have that access. I am interested in how northern-identified poets are portraying the conflict, knowing that poetry in the north may mean song and oral traditions that are not as page-bound.
Photo of Todd Fredson from his Peace Corps days in the Ivory Coast, courtesy Fredson.
Header background image from the 1930s: ASU's iconic Palm Walk. UP UPC ASUB P343 #26