Selected Publications and Projects
An Orchestra of Minorities. Little, Brown and Company, 2019.
The Fishermen: A Novel. Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
"The Great Convert." Transition No. 114, 2014.
"Fishermen." Virginia Quarterly Review, 2011.
"The Road to the Country." Virginia Quarterly Review, 2015.
"Audacity of Prose." The Millions, 2015.
Awards and Honors
The NAACP Awards for Debut Book - Winner
The Inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Awards - Winner
Man Booker Prize for Fiction - Finalist
The Guardian First Book Award - Finalist
Center for Fiction First Novel Prize - Finalist
Edinburgh Festival First Book Award - Shortlist
The International Dylan Thomas Prize - Longlist
Named one of FP's 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015
Best book of 2015 Lists:
Library Journal's Best Books 2015
Relevant Magazine's Top 10 Books of 2015
American Library Association's 5 Best Debuts of the Spring
Personal Teaching Statement
If, upon getting to your house, which you left only a few hours before, you find a big hole on your lawn with a tribe of swine living in its miry pond, what is the first thing that would cross your mind? Wouldn’t it be How did it happen? Within that question is an admittance of a certain kind of lapse, or even failure: that the writer was not a witness to the unpleasant event. In other words, s/he should have been there to see the crater dug and the swine enter it. Hence, behind every question is an admittance, or a wish to have been a witness. The writer then takes on the subject in an attempt to be converted into a witness. The words we spill out onto the page in the form of dialogue become a testimony to empathy, to human consciousness. We bear witness to the way of the world by using the praxis of inquiry into the subconscious, into that part of our being where imaginations spring and non-existent creatures are called into life as we try to answer the questions about what interests us about living, about love, about humanity; we become witnesses to how people (represented in our characters) live, love, fight, and become humans. This, for me, is what drives the best forms of creative writing.
In my creative writing classes, I first try to instill the idea in my students that they are writers first and students second. In the workshops, I split the students into even groups and begin by assigning them a model text to read closely. I encourage them to treat their colleague’s texts with the same respect as theirs. Then, together, as multi-dimensional witnesses, we weigh the testimonies of the texts and student writings through the basic rubrics of a narrative’s building blocks such as thematic cohesion, arc, characterization, etc. Since witnesses not only see the result of an action, they also testify to the way the action was carried out, I urge my students to dig deeper into the writing, moving from the surface—the traces of writing on the page—to the deeper process of making the work. Why is this story couched in a stream-of-consciousness technique rather than a dialogue form? Why does a character die in the end as opposed to live? Often, these types of questions help the writer see the piece as raw, moldable material that is not just merely improvable, but as something that can also be recreated. This, I have found, is the struggle of most students: the reluctance to completely destroy a tower so painstakingly built. Yet, that—as I make them see—is the core of good writing: revision. But this method of looking into the process of creating work also comes in handy when students have anxieties about writing as was the case this past spring when a student turned up in my class saying he was not creative, but loved to write.