By Rosie Kean

Rita Zoey Chin was only 11 when she started running away from her home. Fleeing an abusive father, Chin found herself living on the streets for much of her teenage years.

Chin, an alum of the Masters of Fine Arts program at this university, shared some of her stories from her memoir Let The Tornado Come Wednesday night in Ulrich Recital Hall as part of the Writers Here and Now series. Alum Hayes Davis also read several poems from his book  Let Our Eyes Linger, which was published in April of this year.

Chin read her excerpts sitting down with her right leg folded up on her chair. She said that she wanted to sit rather than stand on the stage because “it feels more intimate and I’ll be less fidgety.”

In a soft-spoken voice, Chin vividly narrated scenes from her rebellious and troubled youth, telling the audience of when she hitched a ride from some men she met in a 7- Eleven when she was just 13 years old, and her time spent in detention centers and rehab facilities.

“She described it so that you felt like you were with her,” said sophomore general business major Maggie Keller.

Most importantly, though, Chin detailed the moment when her life began to change. She was walking by a field in the middle of a lightning storm. No rain, no thunder—just lightning, Chin said. In that field, Chin saw galloping horses, producing thunder with their hooves.

“I can’t move,” Chin read. “Maybe because this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Chin spontaneously decided to ride horses, which became an integral part of helping her cope with her future anxiety.  

“Strangely, getting on top of a large animal when you feel like fleeing yourself, it helps,” Chin said.

Chin said she decided to write her memoir after experiencing panic attacks as an adult. Not knowing how to handle these sudden attacks, Chin tried going to a bookstore to find a book that could help her. However, she did not find any books related to her situation.

“There were a lot of self-help books,” Chin said. “But no books that just talk to you, like ‘Hey, I know how you feel.”

After working through her panic attacks, Chin decided to write her memoir to help other people with anxiety and panic disorders.

“I wanted to tell my story so other people can see that they can get through it, so I wrote that book,” Chin said.

Chin wasn’t the only writer who shared personal experiences.

Davis read a poem called “Vessel,” which described him scattering his father’s ashes on Island Beach State Park in New Jersey.

Other pieces were inspired before Davis’s father’s passing, like including one about his father teaching him to drive.

Junior neurophysiology major Vivienne Edwards said she admired both Chin’s and Davis’s talents.

“They were incredibly raw. I think it’s incredibly brave that they were able to stand up there and talk about things we instinctively want to press down,” Edwards said.

For Davis, poetry is all about slowing down time.

“What inspires me is poetry’s ability to slow the world down into its incremental moments,” Davis said.

In addition to reading personal poems, Davis also read several poems from the perspective of a literary character — Jim from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“The narrative is limited by Huck’s limited perspective,” Davis explained.

Davis is also a teacher at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., which is also why he was inspired to create poems that are told from Jim’s perspective.

“The poems are my attempts to, even outside the classroom, get people to notice his character in the book and get people to think about his point of view if they’ve read the book,” Davis said.

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Brian Stetson on Flickr.

Rosie Kean is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at vrosekean@gmail.com

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