“It was not a kitchen for the faint of heart,” read Angie Chuang as she described the heart of an Afghan family’s home during a reading of her award winning memoir, “The Four Words for Home: A memoir of two families.”
On Thursday, Oct 4 at 8:15 PM in the Daugherty-Palmer Commons, the St. Mary’s College of Maryland English department hosted Angie Chuang as their latest guest speaker for the VOICES reading series.
For the past 40 years, the VOICES reading series on campus has brought known and emerging writers from all over the country to the campus and community here at SMCM.
The evening began with Dr. Karen Anderson introducing Chuang to the crowd with remarks filled with a sense of personal academic respect, along with joy in getting ready to show people the gift of Chuang’s work. “Angie’s resume makes her look like someone who plays by the rules and wins,” noted Anderson. After her welcome, Chuang acknowledged the environment that was created by SMCM’s English department saying, “the sense of hospitality has been nothing short of Afghan level hospitality.”
Chuang is the Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Previously she taught at American University in Washington, D.C. Chuang spent 13 years building an astounding reputation as a newspaper reporter at The Oregonian, the Los Angeles Times and The Hartford Courant. Her beatwork at The Oregonian won her national attention and awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of American Travel Writers and the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association just to name a few.
This memoir started as a series of articles that Chuang was writing for magazines and newspapers. Quickly realizing that the series of articles “wasn’t enough” she transformed her idea into a book over the next nine years.
When listening to Chuang read from a small portion of her memoir, the room was transported to a country that most people only know about through stereotypes. While religion plays a large role in the everyday dress of the women in Afghanistan, Chuang described how Afghan women felt sorry for American women having to live in a world where they had to display their bodies for attention by men and were held up for judgment by other people. Chuang also pointed out that the husbands typically didn’t care if the women wore the traditional religious clothing-it was more for the other women who would “talk” if they saw other women not fully covered; “Men make the rules, but women are the police.”
How masculinity is defined in Afghanistan was also another point that captivated the audience’s attention because “Afghanistan is seen as a hypermasculine culture with a different means of masculinity.” In American when we think of masculinity, we often think of earthtoned colors, large muscles and a dominant personality. When describing the men that the young women had crushes on, they were often dressed in bright colors, and danced in a way that carried a sense of flamboyancy. Because it was such a secular country, unless a couple was newly married physical affection between different genders wasn’t a common occurrence. So, to satisfy the innate human need for affection, close friends of the same gender were the answer to that need. Seeing close male friends walking hand in hand in public and sharing a cheek kiss as a greeting is that of an everyday occurrence.
After reading from her first memoir, Chuang gave the audience a sneak peek at a draft for her second upcoming memoir during a brief reading of the prologue with notes of the importance of decision making, “All you need to know is that I was an ovarian cancer survivor in my late 30s and I had just decided to have an affair with a married man named Michael.”
In addition to the first brief reading of her second memoir, an upper level English class had the chance to read over a draft of the memoir and edit it in class. The vulnerability of sharing a first draft with a group of strangers, knowing and expecting it to get ripped apart is only a quality that a true writer like Chuang can possess.
When speaking to The Point News about her experience at SMCM, Chuang said “I came because I met Dr. Anderson at a writing residency and she invited me here. I’m really impressed with the environment on campus. I was in the Great Room and at three separate times different people got everyone’s attention to make announcements. That sense of community spoke a lot about the campus.”
It is that same sense of community that was the take away from Chuang’s VOICES reading. The sense of community that the people in Afghanistan welcomed her with echos the sense of community that was built through their own bonds of friendship, religion, and family. And that sense of community was found in a room filled with strangers learning about a country that holds itself together through war and violence.