Faludi reads work in Distinguished Writers Series

Against the backdrop of the royal purple banner checkered with the Hunter College logo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Susan Faludi read excerpts from her new memoir, “In the Darkroom” and explored the issue of identity to a crowd of students and professors last week in the faculty cafeteria.

Faludi is one of many authors reading at Hunter this semester as part of the Distinguished Writers Series provided by the Creative Writing MFA program.

More authors will be coming throughout the remainder of the semester including, Lauret Savoy, Donna Masini, and Catherine Barnett.

“In the Darkroom” recounts Faludi’s experience reconnecting with her estranged father after learning that the once strong-headed and hot-tempered man become a woman, whom Faludi recalled as reminiscent of 1950s movie stars like Marilyn Monroe

Faludi described her father, once Steven and now Stephy, as someone who had lived a life of constantly changing identity, first as a young Jew passing as a Nazi officer during the Holocaust to save his family, and then as a man who sought to become a woman for so many years.

“It’s about the furies that can be unleashed when a culture embraces a fanciful, dare I say trumped-up, version of identity which has a whole lot to do with what’s happening now,” said Faludi.

As Faludi, dressed in all black, read her memoir from the podium, the only other noise heard was the occasional click of the lone photographer’s telephoto lens snapping pictures. The faculty cafeteria on the eighth floor of the West Building is enclosed by windows. Everyone in the room was reflected in the glass, making it look as though they were sitting against a night sky sprinkled with yellow building lights from nearby buildings.

“Susan is an important writer and a great person, and her new memoir “In the Darkroom” is a phenomenal book,” said Gabriel Packard, the associate director of the MFA program.

While at Hunter, Faludi came to visit both the undergraduate class HUM150 and an MFA class on memoirs where she fielded questions from students and faculty about her memoir and her experience as a writer.

Jamie Lynn Harris, 29, an adjunct professor who teaches Hunter’s MFA class on Distinguished Living Writers, uses Faludi’s memoir in her class. So her students were especially excited by the opportunity to speak to the author of a book they read.

“When you have a writer come, you want to ask them about what they wrote about, but you also want to take advantage of the fact that they’re a working writer,” said Harris. “You want to know sort of their perspective on the writing process.”

Ruponthi Sheikh, 21, a senior, appreciated the opportunities the Q&A portion of the event allowed the audience.

“I think that is one of the special things about this program — just getting a peek into a more personal side of the writer and having Faludi respond to audience questions that dive deeper into the book,” said Sheikh.

At the end of the reading, Faludi left the audience with food for thought regarding what she learned about identity after reconnecting with her father. The two of them talked about what it meant to take hold of one’s own identity. And at her talk, she made the connection between that experience and what the country is going through now.

“Part of what my book explores is the Janis-faced nature of identity — the way identity can be either liberating as with LGBT rights, civil rights, feminism, or it can be nationalistic and xenophobic,” said Faludi. “The first identity search seeks self-awareness and understanding, the second is an attempt to go over painful realities and problems by retreating into a fantasy identity.”

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