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Florida A&M University (FAMU) Spring Literary Forum featured speaker Jonathan Escoffery hopes readers of his debut short-story collection, How I Survive You, will see the “humanity” of Jamaicans and other immigrants of color beyond the tourist’s perspective.
“I want them to see the world with fresh eyes – to see other people’s humanity, to see that humanity regardless of their social class or status,” said Escoffery, the Miami-born son of Jamaican immigrants. “When I’d speak to people in the U.S. about Jamaica and Jamaicans, there’s this sense that the essence of a Jamaican is their poverty and their willingness to work at an all-inclusive resort.”
Escoffery will share his work and ideas during the Spring 2023 Literary Forum virtual event at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2. To participate in Zoom Webinar ID:945 8716 2582 Passcode: 943080.
The theme is “I am because we are: identity, migration and defining self in the African Diaspora.”
Literary Forum Committee member Alexander Dumas J. Brickler IV, Ph.D., met Escoffery as part of events for the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (BGAPSA) at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 2009/2010 and was instantly impressed.
“In seeing the mounting buzz surrounding the release of his debut novel on social media, I knew that this would be a perfect opportunity to let his work shine for our students at FAMU,” Brickler said. “We were thrilled when he agreed to let us be a platform to showcase his prodigious accomplishment.”
Brickler, an assistant professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages, said FAMU students would enjoy and learn from Escoffery’s book.
“When I read If I Survive You, I have to say that I was utterly captivated. It was one of those instances where I could not put it down. I could not wait to assign it as part of my curriculum, because I foresaw a mighty resonance that it could have with our students. Many of them have direct and indirect connections to both Miami and the Caribbean,” Brickler said. “I’m excited that this year’s lit forum will be such a perfect opportunity to introduce a work of such cultural relevance and artistic impact.”
As an undergraduate and graduate student, Escoffery read the works of Edgar Allan Poe and other great American writers. He realized he wanted his fiction to celebrate characters absent from those classical works. Writers such as Marlon James (The Book of Night Women), Junot Diaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Jamaica Kincaid (A Small Place), and Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street) helped him to find his way.
“The joy of writing this book was bringing in these different voices of people I grew up with in Miami,” said Escoffery, a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. “I wanted the Jamaican patois to be present; I wanted Cuban Spanish to be present; I wanted to have some of the more rural voices heard.”
Escoffery, who earned his bachelor’s from Florida International University and is a doctoral Fellow in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California, paid tribute to award-winning contemporary Jamaican writers. He said Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings), Nicole Dennis-Benn (Here Comes the Sun), and Alexia Arthurs (How to Love a Jamaican) helped pave the way for his work to be accepted by mainstream publisher Macmillan.
“They made it less scary for me to try to get published, and they made it less scary for publishers to take on a book like mine,” Escoffery said. “I have to give credit to those folks.”