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Audio Lit: English on the Air

Hear talk and interview recordings from a professor, visiting author, and student
December 13, 2017

Professor John Watkins

Professor John Watkins
Distinguished McKnight University Professor John Watkins, recipient of the Morse-Alumni Award for Outstanding Contribution to Undergraduate Education
  • Professor John Watkins teaches the popular undergraduate class "The End of the World in Literature & History." Hear a sample of what this award-winning teacher typically addresses in an interview on "The Apocalypse!" for Access Minnesota.

I think our apocalypse has gotten dark, certainly in popular culture. In the secular versions of the apocalypse, we now have apocalypse without revelation. Apocalypse of pure destruction. But even those narratives tend to have hints of a happy ending. The enemy state is overthrown. The post-apocalyptic horrors will still be faced by a strong band of survivors. Apocalyptic narratives often have an emphasis on survivorship: what does it take to live in these drastically altered conditions?

  • Novelist Edwidge Danticat spoke about her new nonfiction book The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story for the 34th Esther Freier Lecture in Literature on October 25. The book is a moving combination of stories about her mother's recent death and examples from other writers confronting death. The Minneapolis community radio station KRSM recorded and archived the talk (under November's Town Square episodes).

When my mom passed away, I started reading and re-reading certain texts, just trying to give myself an assignment to have enough focus to move on. . . . I feel like I have been writing about death through a lot of [my] work. My book Breath, Eyes, Memory has a suicide, and Krik? Krak! deals with the killings that followed the coup d'etat in Haiti in the 1990s. When I was re-reading those early works, I was rethinking how I had addressed death. One of my brothers used to say, 'You're kind of a serial killer in those books.' And I realized it was easier to kill off a character when I hadn't dealt so much with death close up.

If you give me the space to create on my own terms, the kind of work you're going to get is going to be much more authentic, nuanced, and complex; and isn't that what we want from art and in life? . . . Sometimes you're not going to get the joke. Sometimes the stories you hear are going to challenge what you previously thought you knew about this community. And sometimes you're not going to be able to empathize with any of the characters—but so what? I go to see plays about old dead white people all the time. Obviously I'm not old, dead, or white, but do I care?

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