Connection: A WITS Intern Reflects on Event with Yaa Gyasi
November 25, 2020
Zoë Mertz is a University of Washington student doing a remote internship with the Writers in the Schools program at SAL. After attending the recent Literary Arts Series event with Yaa Gyasi on November 16, she wrote this reflective piece on attending events pre-Covid and what it’s like to attend online now.
Read on to learn what lectures Zoë first attended with SAL, who her companion is for these literary outings, and how she watches online today.
By Zoë Mertz, WITS Intern
My mother and I have attended SAL lectures together since long before quarantine started. She took me to see Geraldine Brooks and Ann Patchett before I had even heard of their books, just for the experience of listening to tremendous authors and learning about their stories and journeys.
We ventured beyond our usual fiction-based literary comfort zone to hear Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey speak about their journalistic experiences investigating Harvey Weinstein which cumulated in their book She Said. We brought my younger sister along for The Moth Mainstage—she confessed afterwards that she had “no idea where we were going when we got in the car, but it was really cool!”
For us, the SAL experience went beyond just the incredible speakers that graced the stage and the student artists who opened each talk. We loved seeing Benaroya Hall all lit up at night with throngs of people in the foyer waiting to be ushered through the doors. We loved laughing over cups of gelato afterwards, recounting our favorite moments of the evening.
The experience is different now. I don’t get to see even my mother in person, let alone the hundreds that flocked to Benaroya Hall. But we are still able to share in the experience of SAL, my phone propped against my laptop as I curl under the blankets in my bed in my college apartment, my mother on the other end of the call as my younger siblings bicker in the background.
We are able to chatter a bit more than we would in a hushed auditorium, to greet the familiar faces of SAL leadership kicking off the talk, and to cheer on the student speaker as her face appears onscreen, recalling together my own days in the Youth Poet Laureate cohort. And we get to enjoy the best part of the SAL experience—to listen and learn from an author from another pocket of the world entirely.
We smile together at Yaa Gyasi’s remark about how she was something of a celebrity at her childhood local library because that sounded so much like me as a child. When Gyasi spoke about reading Frederick Douglass’ memoir, the first work by a Black author assigned to her in school, I pondered the array of authors that I read in high school, trying to determine how much more diversity had come with time. We listened carefully throughout the conversation portion of the evening, trying to educate ourselves through Gyasi’s and Mbue’s reflections on race and immigration, science and faith.
“Holy is the novel, and holy is the transcendence it brings us,” Ruth Dickey said about Gyasi’s new novel, Transcendent Kingdom, to kick off the talk. This is how I feel about the sheer improbability of our times, and the significance of an event like this coming together amidst them, all of us drawn together to celebrate our love for the written word.
Zoë Mertz is a student at the University of Washington. She was part of the 2017/18 Youth Poet Laureate cohort, and performed on the SAL stage last year as part of the Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Poetry Series event with Paisley Rekdal at Hugo House on February 6th, 2020.