A Martin guitar, wine in Paris and a tattoo in Hebrew were brought to life through prose Wednesday evening during nationally acclaimed essayist Anne Fadiman’s 10th annual evening of readings featuring her Yale students.
Each semester, Fadiman — who is Yale’s Francis Writer in Residence — teaches an undergraduate class on nonfiction and creative writing. During the early months of the spring semester, Fadiman selects three students’ essays to showcase at a public presentation. Wednesday’s reading event, hosted in the Ives Program Room of the New Haven Free Public Library, was themed around “work and play,” and the students invited to speak were chosen from “At Home in America,” Fadiman’s fall semester class.
Fadiman’s pride in her students’ work and in the broad turnout at the event, which drew approximately 85 students and New Haven residents, was palpable in her words.
“I look forward to this every year,” Fadiman said. “It’s like Christmas for me.”
The tradition, which began in 2006, came about after the NHFPL asked Fadiman to read her work aloud at the library. NHFPL Reference Librarian Seth Godfrey said the Wilson branch manager approached Fadiman because he enjoyed book discussions and promoting authors. Fadiman agreed to speak at the library on the condition that her students could read as well.
Ten years on, Fadiman said she has thought deeply about what this year’s anniversary means to her. She said she read a Wikipedia article that noted the traditional gift for 10-year anniversaries is tin or aluminum, but people nowadays give diamonds instead.
“My feelings about this library are definitely on the diamond end, not the tin end,” Fadiman said.
Fadiman said the three pieces she selected this year were chosen because of the “breadth of emotion” they conveyed. The tones expressed in the essays ranged from humor to tragedy, both across the students’ work and within the individual pieces. She said the adaptability of the pieces to being shortened and read aloud was also considered, but that since all 12 of her fall students are so talented, she could have chosen any.
The selections were made over winter break and the students got together to practice after returning to campus, Fadiman said.
Brett Davidson ’16 started Wednesday evening’s event with his profile of a piano tuner. The roughly 15-minute piece detailed his experience watching and listening to a professional piano tuner.
“Death in humans is difficult to determine,” Davidson said, reading aloud from his essay. “Determination of piano death is even hazier.”
He was followed by Emma Goldberg ’16, who wrote an object piece entitled “I Think It Was The Music.” Her story focused on her father’s Martin guitar and chronicled his life, her parents’ relationship and their eventual separation.
Goldberg, a former opinion editor for the News, said it was difficult to write a piece that was so emotional and personal but she said the experience was fulfilling and one that helped her work through her own emotions.
The last student speaker was Adam Mahler ’17, a former copy editor for the News. He tied his love of words into a tale about his first tattoo and the artist who gave it to him.
In his public introduction of his story, Mahler said Fadiman left the students in her class with some “serious wind in their literary sails.”
Fadiman finished the evening off with her own story about her father, and his love of wine that she does not share. She added that the annual event encourages her to continue writing in order to ensure she always has new material to present.
The NHFPL has a $3.617 million budget.