All the junior backpacks piled around the outside library during long period 1 on Tuesday morning, November 11. Inside the library, NoViolet Bulawayo was ready to speak.
Bulawayo is the author of We Need New Names, a novel read by the eleventh grade class for summer reading. We Need New Names tells the story of a young girl named Darling and the tension that arises when she moves from Zimbabwe to Michigan and is forced to reevaluate home and what it means to her. The book deals with both the personal and the political with rawness and sincerity, all with the voice of an adolescent narrator.
Bulawayo began by reading excerpts from her book. The novel read like poetry as she read it aloud; her words sunk into the ground and grew as the period went by, filling the library with a forest of sound and words. Later during the Q&A session Bulawayo explained that she has a huge love and appreciation of language, and how certain portions of the novel were a way for her to explore her love of language through poetry. Not only is she passionate about poetry, NoViolet Bulawayo also expressed the power of fiction in telling stories and telling the truth. Nayanika K. ’16 asked her why she chose to write a fictional novel as opposed to a memoir, to which Bulawayo began responding to simply by saying, “Fiction is fun! You’re able to invent.” She went on that “stories are stories; they can do the work of non-fiction. You can tell the truth better through fiction sometimes.”
A main theme that emerges in her novel We Need New Names is home; what we are able to call home, if home is something out of our hands or something we can name for ourselves. Protagonist Darling leaves Zimbabwe and is confronted with the fact that although she may still feel homesickness and a connection to her mother country, the people she left behind when she came to the United States do not feel the same way. Questions about what home truly means are left unanswered in the book — it is complicated issue that is very real and impacts many: something so multifaceted cannot be easily summarized in one novel. When Maddy M. ’16 asked, “Do you agree that [Zimbabwe] is not [Darling’s] country?”, Bulawayo was sure to note the nuanced nature of this issue. But she summarized strongly: “Your country is your country as long you claim it.”
Sophie P. ’16 voiced a question on many students’ minds during class discussions: Why did the last scene go the way it did? Why did Bulawayo choose to end the novel on this bizarre, upsetting flashback? Bulawayo responded that she wanted the novel to come full circle in a way. She also meditated on the idea that for some, going back to their home or country is only possible through memory.
In addition to her reading and Q&A session, NoViolet Bulawayo led a workshop on writing dialogue. Throughout her reading, Q&A session, and workshop, NoViolet displayed a love of language and writing that was inspiring. Fiction and writing and language, she reminded the junior class, are fun and something to be celebrated. We left the library with our eyes brighter and pencils ready to work.
by Kiana B. ’16