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Vassar College Lectures and Readings, Fall 2020: Vassar Lectures and Readings Fall 2020

Resources related to upcoming lectures and readings at the college, recommended by Vassar Librarians.


Mohsin Hamid. Shruti Swamy. Naomi Shihab Nye.  Carmen Maria Machado


First Year Common Reading: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia lock eyes across their classroom. After a while, they talk, he makes her smile and they start to fall in love. They try not to notice the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the curfews and the public executions.

Eventually the problem is too big to ignore: it’s not safe for Nadia to live alone and she must move in with Saeed, even though they are not married, and that too is a problem. Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to London or San Francisco, Greece or Dubai. One day soon the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to seek out one such door, joining the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

Josephine Carter (2020) How far are we prepared to go? Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and the refuge crisisTextual Practice, DOI: 10.1080/0950236X.2020.1745877

Naydan, Liliana M. "Digital Screens and National Divides in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West." Studies in the Novel, DOI: 10.1353/sdn.2019.0048.

Mohsin Hamid answers reader questions about his book, Exit West, PBS Newshour

Mohsin Hamid reads from Exit West, Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC.

Reading and Discussion: Shruti Swami (VC '07), September 17th

A House is A Body book coverIn two-time O. Henry-prize winner Shruti Swamy's debut collection of stories, dreams collide with reality, modernity collides with antiquity, myth with true identity, and women grapple with desire, with ego, with motherhood and mortality. In "Earthly Pleasures," Radika, a young painter living alone in San Francisco, begins a secret romance with one of India's biggest celebrities. In "A Simple Composition," a husband's moment of crisis leads to his wife's discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy and the sense of a new beginning. In the title story, an exhausted mother watches, distracted and paralyzed, as a California wildfire approaches her home. With a knife blade's edge and precision, the stories of A House Is a Body travel from India to America and back again to reveal the small moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world. 

A House is a Body, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2020 (VCL ebook) 

Shruti Swamy in conversation with Kiese Laymon, Aug. 12, 2020, Powells Books.

Elizabeth Bishop Lecture 2020: Naomi Shihab Nye, October 14th

 Cast Away: PoemsNaomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio. Nye is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for her work. Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.” In her work, according to Jane Tanner in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, “Nye observes the business of living and the continuity among all the world’s inhabitants … She is international in scope and internal in focus.” Nye is also considered one of the leading female poets of the American Southwest. A contributor to Contemporary Poets wrote that she “brings attention to the female as a humorous, wry creature with brisk, hard intelligence and a sense of personal freedom unheard of” in the history of pioneer women.

The Tiny Journalist, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2019. (VCL ebook)

Poetry Foundation

Reading and Discussion: Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dreamhouse

  [In the Dreamhouse] haunts the gray areas of abuse, how it shatters the memoir form, how like a dream it shapeshifts. It’s literature as gaslighting. It ensnares and unsettles, tantalises and wrongfoots.

Machado is at the forefront of a wave of writers producing sensual, defiant, highly inward stories that centre on the female body. She was shortlisted for a US National book award in 2017 for her gothic-flavoured short stories about sex and gender.  - Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Guardian

"Mary When You Follow Her." Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 94 no. 2, 2018, p. 128-130.  (short story)

Jessica Campbell. "Real Women Have Skins: The Enchanted Bride Tale in Her Body and Other Parties." Marvels & Tales, vol. 33 no. 2, 2019, p. 302-318. 

"Carmen Maria Machado Takes Us in the Dreamhouse." Code Switch, NPR, January, 2020. (podcast)

Carmen Maria Machado reading from In the Dreamhouse, Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC.