Vievee Francis said she loves fairytales, but she only started reading them as a grown woman. Francis presented themes of imagination, reality and the battle between the two during her poetry readings at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House “Writers Here & Now” series April 6 in Ulrich Recital Hall.
Francis and Jim Shepard were the guests of the night. Francis has appeared in several publications, including Best American Poetry 2010 and Angles of Ascent, A Norton Anthology of African American Poetry.
Francis read poems from her newest book Forest Primeval: Poems. She explained she lived in Detroit for many years when she and her husband decided to move to the lower Appalachians. She said the book “speaks to my negotiation, moving from the very, very urban to the mountains.”
Her poems ranged from the change she experienced moving to the wilderness, to the abuse she faced in the past and the difficulty of feeling beautiful in her own skin. She told a story about a time she traveled on a plane and an obese woman made it known to Francis she did not want to “accidentally” touch her skin. The woman and her husband made a scene and moved seats.
Francis said she had a decision to make when she got off that plane. Instead of taking a racist incident and turning into a work of rage, she wrote a love poem about the couple.
Kamille Pereira, sophomore English major, said, “It was something that probably wasn’t the best experience to be in at the moment but then she wrote such a lovely poem about the couple.”
Francis said people often perceive her as a maternal, black woman. In response, she has said to them, “I’m round and I’m brown, that doesn’t make me maternal.” Francis said people didn’t believe her until she wrote her latest book.
Pereira said, “When you read other poets, even if it’s not you’re aesthetic, it helps you write new things and be inspired, and if you have a wheelhouse that you always write about, you’ll never get really bored of it if it’s what you really love.”
Jim Shepard is an American novelist of seven books and four short stories. Shepard often focuses on historical events featuring fictional characters, which helps give readers a face for the facts.
At Writers Here and Now,” Shepard read a new piece about railroad infrastructure. He joked with the audience about trying to create political change writing this short story.
While his story focused largely on railroad facts, history and employee practices, Shepard developed a main character who is a railroad employee. He left the readers with the protagonist arguing with his mother about the absence of a family within their home. The last line Shepard read was: “And then once we sat there for a little while longer, she told me to turn off the lights when I went to bed.”
Senior criminology and criminal justice major, Ian Sloan, said, “With Shepard, I don’t know too much about railroad infrastructure, but I do appreciate hearing that because I do want to have more knowledge about it.”
He said, “Both writers … gave you a conscious moment where you were just thinking about, ‘wow, I need to sit back and have an epiphany.’”
The next Writers Here & Now is May 4.
Featured Photo Credit: Poet Vievee Francis speaks to students during the Writers Here & Now Q&A session in the Queen Anne’s multipurpose room. When asked about how she feels about silence in terms of having a voice, Francis responded, “I’m comfortable with silence on my own terms.” Pictured left, junior mechanical engineering major and Writers’ House student, Luke Johnston. Pictured right, Writers’ House director, Johnna Schmidt. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Allie Melton is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.