A PEN Out Loud Interview with Nicole Dennis-Benn
In advance of their PEN Out Loud discussion on October 14 at Strand Bookstore, we asked author Nicole Dennis-Benn (Patsy, Oneworld Publications) about why she’s excited to be in conversation with Staceyann Chin. Don’t miss out! Buy tickets here »
1. What do you want readers to know about your most recent novel, Patsy, and any forthcoming work?
Patsy is a novel about a woman wanting to find her place in the world. She migrates to America from Jamaica in search of better opportunities and the ability to love the way she wants to love. She hopes to rekindle a romance with her childhood best friend, Cicely. Patsy also seeks to escape the role of motherhood — a role she never wanted and was never prepared for. She abandons her five-year-old daughter, Tru, who comes of age questioning her mother’s abandonment as Tru herself comes into her own identity. Patsy’s story is driven by one question: What do we lose (or gain) when we choose ourselves?
2. What was the last book you read? What are you reading next?
The last book I read was Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. Next on my list is There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald.
3. Why do you think it is valuable for writers to be in conversation with each other about their work and current events through series like PEN Out Loud?
Writing is lonely. Unlike any other profession where people share office spaces, our colleagues are most visible at literary events. However, we don’t necessarily have deep conversations about our works. Sometimes we don’t even know or appreciate the ways in which the other person’s work speaks to ours until we’re put in conversations like PEN Out Loud.
4. What do you admire about Staceyann Chin’s work as a poet and artist? What are you looking forward to speaking with Staceyann about?
Staceyann Chin’s poetry speaks to me in so many ways. I encountered her work in the early 2000’s when I was in undergrad at Cornell University. She came to perform on campus and I was gripped by her powerful language and delivery that drove her words into my soul. I was a newly arrived immigrant from Jamaica, coming out to myself as a lesbian, thinking I was the only one in my culture who felt that way. I was taken by how unapologetic Staceyann Chin was in owning all of who she is and her activism, daring the world, including the homeland we share, to embrace change.
5. What does PEN America’s work defending freedom of expression mean to you?
As artists, our job is to not only ruffle feathers, but to preserve truths in our works. Though I am aware of the dangers in that, I am even more emboldened by the fact that our silences won’t protect us either. Zora Neale Hurston says, “If you’re silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” In a time when freedom of expression is being threatened, PEN America reminds us of the importance of owning our narratives and speaking our truths.