Books that Made You Feel Seen
In the "Books that Made You" series, we're taking a look at the books that made us who we are. This time, we asked you what book made you feel seen. After scrutinizing our highly scientific social media poll, we present to you this non-exhaustive list of books that get at the heart of our personal experiences.
"I found myself saying 'YES. YES. YES.' a LOT while reading Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West," says GrubStreet HR & Operations Manager Lauren Rheaume. "Her essays on misogyny and body image (and many other things) are powerful, provocative, and I instantly wanted to be her best friend after reading them."
Frankie Concepcion, a member of the Boston Writers of Color Group, remarks that "Reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the first time I had seen my experience as an immigrant finally put into words. As someone who immigrated to the U.S. at seventeen, there was so much I needed to learn about what it means to be a woman of color living in America. I wish I could go back in time and give this book to seventeen-year-old Frankie to help her navigate that transition. Reading it gave me the language I needed to advocate for myself in so many aspects of life."
"Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation exposes truths about marriage and commitment that were very liberating for me as I was wrestling with wearing so many hats—mother, wife, writer, friend, sister, daughter," says Susan Bernhard, Novel Incubator Graduate and author of the forthcoming Winter Loon (Little A. December 1st, 2018). Susan also praises Claire Dederer’s Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning, for "unapologetically acknowledging female sex and sexuality with raw candor."
Grub's Neighborhood Programs Fellow Denise Delgado connected with Loving Day by Mat Johnson. "The first person narrator is biracial; the son of a black mother who (I believe) passed away when he was young and a white father of Irish descent. I've never come across this character's particular brand of hilarious and neurotic interiority around identity in another work of fiction—he jokes about looking like a Lithuanian soccer player, about being painfully self-conscious about the way he reads to others, among other things—and as a Latina of mixed ethnicity, it felt . . . familiar."
The book that made Boston Writers of Color member Manni Ma feel seen was Gloria Naylor's Mama Day.
I met this story in Black Literature class in high school. I’d met other black woman characters—very few in the classroom—but meeting the Day family was the first time I’d encountered women like my great aunt who, as a little girl, I’d sit in front of to get my hair done when spending summers with her; like my grandmother who was my refuge, even in my dreams. In my youthful eyes, they spun magic.
My family descends from Haiti. After devouring Mama Day, I no longer felt other-ed. Willow Springs was home. Everything within the walls of my home, through adolescence, was a strict Haitian household. Outside those walls, American culture (the one I’d been born into) was only to be observed. Never exercised. I can’t count the number of times I’ve re-read Naylor’s masterpiece since high school. Each time is like meeting family members you haven’t seen in some time and are excited to savor every moment you have together.
YAWP Summer Assistant Michael Schermerhorn says,"Since 2015, I've carried Bianca Stone's collection of poetry Someone Else's Wedding Vows with me everywhere I go. As a college-aged student trying to navigate the complexities of youth and my relationships with others and myself, I found that her style and voice validated my eccentricities and differences. Bianca is the reason I've embraced my identity as a poet/artist!"
Grub's Director of Programs and Marketing, Alison Murphy, was struck by Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. "I was in and out of the hospital a lot in my early twenties and her first essay in that collection is the first time I read anything that remotely approached how strange an experience it is to be alienated from your own body."
"There are so many books that impacted my life as a teen, but The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois gave a name to the 'otherness' I felt growing up as a Haitian-American teen in Boston in the late 1990s and early 2000s," says Margo Gabriel, Boston Writers of Color member. "The term 'double-consciousness' resonated with me and I identified with the character, John, an educated person of color who entered racism of all sorts outlined in the book. Reading Du Bois’ work taught me to be proud of my education and the ability to code switch and navigate the world as an educated person of color."
Eson Kim, Grub's Director of Community & Youth Programs, says the first book that made her feel seen was Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior.
She was one of the first female Asian authors I read. There’s a scene in the book where the protagonist’s parents tattoo their grievances on her back. This captured the way I felt about the old world my family left behind when they immigrated and the traditional ways my parents wanted to preserve in me. This was often very different from the life I wanted to shape for myself. In that tattoo scene, I felt like that protagonist was me.
Almost twenty years later, I met the author at a book signing, and I brought that original, tattered book to her. We exchanged pleasantries, and I was too shy to tell her anything about my experience reading that book. When I later opened it up to see her inscription, she had added one word to her signature. Sister. And I cried.
Sydney Rae Chin, of the Boston Writers of Color Group, read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri in junior year of high school. "Although I’m not Indian American, I could relate to many of the short stories since it touched on being a hyphenated American. As a third generation Chinese American, I could see so much of the push and pull between living in two cultures especially in 'Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine.' At the end of the short story, Lillia, the main character, becomes less ashamed of her heritage and closer to her parents; this is something I’ve had to learn throughout the years and I wish I had learned it earlier, honestly."
Sonya Larson, Director of The Muse & Advocacy at Grub, is "obsessed" with M. Butterfly, the classic play by David Henry Hwang, based on the story of a real-life French diplomat who had a twenty-year love affair with a Chinese opera singer and spy, while supposedly never realizing that his lover was a man. "It exquisitely articulates how the Western imagination emasculates Asian men and fetishizes Asian women—a phenomenon that my twin brother and I have long observed. Plus it has so much else to say about gender, race, queer identity, and more. Read it right now—it’s mind-blowing."
As Editor of GrubWrites, GrubStreet's popular blog, Colwill serves the Grub community a daily dose of literary goodness. Book lovers can find reviews, news, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to stay up to speed on all things lit. Writers, GrubWrites is your go-to spot for expert craft talk, thoughtful discussions on how writing is learned and taught, and essential publishing and publicity advice. Colwill is also a GrubStreet instructor and consultant specializing in the novel.
Colwill is Writer-in-Residence at Wellspring House, and a recipient of the work-study scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Henry Blackwell Essay Prize. Her creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53, fall 2018), Solstice Literary Magazine, The Conium Review, Poetry and Audience, and other places, and her essays have featured on Dead Darlings and elsewhere. She's served on the editorial team for Post Road magazine and The Conium Review and is currently Fiction Editor at Pangyrus magazine. A scholarship awardee for GrubStreet's Novel Incubator, after graduating from the program Colwill found representation for her first novel with literary agent Robert Guinsler of Sterling Lord Literistic. She was educated at Leeds University in England, where she received her BA hons in English Language and Literature (International), with stints at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Kansas State University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, where she was awarded the Seaton Graduate Fellowship in Creative Writing. Most recently, Colwill completed a Master's degree in English Literature at Boston College, for which she was awarded a full scholarship. Hailing from Yorkshire, England, her life's mission is to introduce the word "sozzard" to the American vernacular. For a full list of publications, projects, and other services, including copy editing, please visit colwillbrown.com.See other articles by Colwill Brown