UConn Alumnus Christina Han was kind enough to share with me the details of her recent interview with Carolyn Forché. While in Professor Courtmanche’s English 2013W class, Han was introduced to Forché’s work, which led Courtmanche to reach out to the author over Facebook to arrange an introduction. Forché, a professor herself, has a lot to teach aspiring poets or memoirists, and I would like to share a few details for the reader’s benefit.
Han approached this interview as a finance major, with a minor in English but a passion for writing and a collection of poems underway (and as of publishing, still underway). [Being an Actuarial Science and English double major myself, I appreciate the plight of those interested in writing but for whom practical concerns overshadow their love.] Forché’s advice to Christina, which she passed on to myself, was that writing does not have a set timeline. Han said that, as a finance major, deadlines and timelines are a primary tool for organization, but Forché emphasized the ability of a writer to set their own pace.In fact, it was 14 years before Forché actually began work on her novel; when she was abroad in El Salvador, she had only kept a journal of fast -paced, sensory details that would later help her recall the important facets of her experience. That such a prominent author could carry her stories with her for such a long time before even beginning to work on them gave Christina renewed hope that she could continue to develop her own writing, even while working in the finance industry.
This is characteristic of Forché’s ethos; she was happy to spend her valuable time to reassure a young writer and discuss her work. Indeed, after she won an American Award in literature, she made a post on Facebook, offering to speak to classrooms, and was positively shocked that she received so many requests. Beyond being generous with her time, Christina illustrated through this anecdote that Forché was incredibly humble, scarcely realizing the impact of her own work.
Along with reassurance and a stunning example of humility, Forché also had some more specific advice for Christina. When Forché was writing her memoir, What You Have Heard is True, she had to consider what to include or omit; she told Christina: “You don’t have to give all the history.. [this can actually] harm your book, what is important is what no one else saw or heard.” Like the details in a memoir, Forché said of collections like In the Lateness of the World that “a poem should do something in a book– if it doesn’t take the reader someplace, then it shouldn’t be in [the collection].” Overall, it appears that one’s perspective should be central to their work, with each element thereof contributing to the reader’s experience.
This isn’t merely writing advice, however– it is expressive of Forché’s entire disposition. What makes her work speak to readers is that she is willing to meet people face-to-face, not just through her interviews like with Christina, but through her writing itself. Forché highlights the importance of the individual, and through her interview it is clear to see that she encourages everyone to share their stories with the world.
The opportunity to interview a famed poet not only highlights the networking strength of UConn, but demonstrates the influence on a single student regarding perspective on literature, encouraging her in her writing pursuits, and finally translating advice through the interview itself. What I, personally, have learned from speaking with Christina about her experience was far more fundamental. Forché creates her works from a deep respect for the human spirit, a spirit that longs for freedom and acknowledgement in equal measure, and retains that respect when passing on her lessons to younger generations, which she is incredibly eager to do. Perhaps a writer must be generous to write, to offer their most precious stories freely to the world. Even so, Carolyn Forché is stunningly generous with her time and counsel; a generosity that benefited Christina Han and the UConn community.