Prose writer-in-residence Apricot Irving to speak about point of view, memoir in Brown Bag

Apricot Irving’s Brown Bag lecture will focus on two things: point of view and memoir.

“Typically, most writers reach for first-person point of view to speak from their own lives, but it can be really valuable as a writer to play with perspective and adopt the second-person voice, for example,” said Irving, an author, educator and the Week Two prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. 

One writer who plays with perspective well, Irving said, is Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American novelist and short story writer.

“She has a gorgeous essay at the end of one of her early short story collections, Krik? Krak!,” Irving said. “It’s called ‘Women Like Us,’ and it’s written in that second-person voice. I’m going to be reading some excerpts from that and talking about the value of having that perspective where it’s almost like someone is standing over your shoulder, coaching you on how to get over a hard thing.”

Irving will give a Chautauqua Literary Arts Brown Bag titled “How Playing with Perspective Untangles Complicated History and Opens Doors to Rapture” at 12:15 p.m. Friday, July 8, on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

“In the case of ‘Women Like Us,’ Danticat is imagining herself as a 15-year-old girl,” she said. “When I met (Danticat) a few weeks ago, we talked about this piece. Someone had asked her who her ideal audience is, and she said: ‘It’s myself as a young girl — that’s always who I imagine when I write about Haiti.’ ”

Irving said that when it came to the writing of her own memoir, The Gospel of Trees, and her time living in Haiti, “it was really difficult.”

“The bulk of what I had to grapple with is being a white missionary’s daughter, and that tangled legacy of colonization and missions,” she said. “I realized, in the process, how much was required of me. I took (Rainer Maria) Rilke’s advice when it came to this: ‘It was not pleasure you fell into. It was joy. You were called to be bridegroom, though the bride coming toward you is your shame.’ ”

When it comes to shame, Irving said, it’s a dance; it’s about looking back on complicated stories in our lives, where “there’s complicity and uncomfortable truths.”

“That complicity has to be faced on the page,” she said. “I’ve found that working with and playing with point of view really helped me get distance and perspective on how to tell my own story, and where to see myself in this larger narrative.”

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The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.