Women Writers on the Meaning of Home

By Caroline Martin || Contributing Writer 

Photo Courtesy of The New York TImes

Last Thursday, September 20th, three award-winning female authors, Kelly McMasters, Hasanthika Sirisena, and Sonya Chung visited the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House here at Franklin & Marshall College. The hour-long chat discussed an anthology on which the three collaborated titled, This Is The Place: Women Writing About Home, as well as their own various independent project.

The discussion started precisely at 7:30 pm, with students and Lancaster residents lounging in comfy chairs and couches inside the Writers House. The authors’ books were available for students to take for free. In the cozy, dim-lighted room, the conversation began.

The event kicked off with the Associate Professor of Art History, Kostis Kourelis making a brief but impactful introduction. He remarked about how talented these women are and how he made it a clear point to include their writing into his current History of Architecture curriculum.

Kelly McMasters, a former visiting professor at Franklin & Marshall, spoke first. She talked about the history behind This Is The Place: Women Writing About Home, and how it was “born” here at F&M, as it was when she was a professor here that she came across this idea. She described that the anthology was about various women describing their homes and specific stories about each one. They range from topics about diversity, feminism, poverty, and divorce.

McMasters read aloud a small portion of her essay titled, The Leaving Season. It is her personal essay that deals with her past relationship struggles and feeling out of place in her previous home. Her emotional story of viewing deer being brutally butchered, and her experience as a female surrounding by males in the South resonated with the crowd.

The next writer to take the stage was Sonya Chung. Chung, primarily a fiction writer, said that she had an intense yearning to join the anthology. She read part of her essay as well, titled Size Matters. Chung wrote about her tiny 450 square feet apartment in New York City that she shares with another person and two dogs. Despite the compactness of the living quarters, she described the apartment as her true home. Her essay in This Is The Place: Women Writing About Home deals with her traumatic childhood, and how her colossal childhood house allowed her plenty of room to isolate and to succumb to loneliness. Sonya Chung’s recent fiction novel was also brought up, titled The Loved Ones, which deals with a group of incredibly diverse people in an unforgiving time, as well as the concept of a home.

Finally, the last to speak was Hasanthika Sirisena, who is currently a professor of creative nonfiction at Susquehanna University. Similar to Chung, she mainly writes fiction. Her essay in the anthology talks about her immigration as a little girl from Sri Lanka to North Carolina. A skilled speaker and writer, she mentioned her mother’s first time attending a Christian church as a Buddhist. She also wrote about social issues that were occurring during that time in the 1980’s, including sexism, racism, and what it means to be a feminist. Chung constantly had the audience captivated with her intriguing stories and humor.

When the ladies finished their talks, they graciously hung around and answered questions from the audience. These questions ranged all the way from their individual writing processes to events directly referenced in their essays. McMasters, Chung, and Sirisena dazzled the crowd with beautiful storytelling and personal stories that tugged at heartstrings.

The next Writers House event is scheduled on October 3rd from 7:30 to 8:30. It features Kory Stamper, a lexicographer who worked for Merriam-Webster for approximately twenty years. Stamper will be discussing her book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, which was recently published in 2017.

First Year Caroline Martin is a Contributing Writer, her email is cmartin@fandm.edu 

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