As Week Two’s theme, “American Identity,” has proved, identity is both intricate and evolving. The only constant is that it means something different for everybody.
“We all contain many identities within us; sometimes those identities seem to exist in harmony, and sometimes they may create discord both within us and without us,” said Janice Eidus, Week Two’s prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “To be an integrated human being and an integrated writer, we have to acknowledge and embrace all the identities that we contain and write from them.”
An essayist and novelist, Eidus’ writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times and PurpleClover. She is the author of works such as The War of the Rosens, Urban Bliss and the short story collection The Celibacy Club.
According to Eidus, identities may stem from family dynamics, nationalities, languages, locations or professions.
“I feel you can’t separate them,” Eidus said. “They all come together. … Ultimately, the point of the talk will be how each of us must embrace, acknowledge, explore and be willing to understand that we contain multiple identities that shape and form us.”
Eidus will also read from her own work and share some of the identities that inform her own writing and selfhood, and how those have evolved with time.
One of her earliest identities was being a grandchild of immigrants, “immigrants who were welcomed here, … which I feel particularly in contemporary times is really important,” she said.
And a more recent identity is being a Caucasian parent to an adopted Latina child, which Eidus said has shaped her profoundly.
“There’s kind of complementary identity in both of those, and yet they’re very separate,” she said.
Identities may be comfortable and familiar, or painful and conflicting. Eidus pointed to her own writing career as an example of this.
“Throughout my career as a writer, I have on occasion been a very transgressive writer, and then on other occasions I’ve been a very traditional writer,” she said. “Those complement each other, and yet can also create dissonance; we need to acknowledge the identities within us that are challenging and disturbing.”
Eidus enjoys working with students whose identities take the class to all corners of the globe. According to Eidus, it’s not only where we live, but also where we yearn to live, that craft our identities.
“For me, I am a native New Yorker, I moved around a lot, but I carried New York within my heart,” she said. “And in the end, I always yearn to come back. I know the things that I love about New York, that I capture in my writing: diversity, the fast pace and what other people would call the ‘noise and craziness,’ which I thrive on.”
She said everyone with a connection to the Big Apple knows there is no single New York identity.
“Just as, ultimately, there’s no single American identity,” she said.