Many authors have selective and methodical ways to unlock their creativity, and while Tiphanie Yanique’s processes may be somewhat unique, they have earned her awards for fiction, short stories, and poetry.
On Saturday afternoon, Yanique spoke to more than two dozen fans – obvious by their reactions – about her writing process at Fort Frederik and then signed copies of her newest novel, “Monster in the Middle.”
The book reading was hosted by the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol, Amy DeSorbo, territorial director, and Monica Marin, territorial chief curator. A similar event was held on St. Thomas on Friday.
Most of Yanique’s writing is about the Caribbean diaspora and depicts her characters as people easily identified as Caribbean people. Even though the stories are fiction, she said she hopes she is speaking the truth to readers.
After reading several pages from “Monster in the Middle,” the author answered questions and carried on an informal conversation with the audience.
The title of the book is about the father who tells his son that people can work through their “monsters,” but the monsters also might save him. Families can be monsters but also saviors, the author added.
The selection she read was about the “love between two young teenagers living in an orphanage and the complicated levels of calling the need for family affection and connectivity love. They were using each other to respond to the trauma (of domestic violence and mental illness) in their lives,” Yanique said.
Most love stories are about white people, so Yanique said she consciously described a relationship and situation familiar to West Indians.
Yanique pointed out that her characters have their own points of view – hers is not the voice of the story.
The St. Thomas native said it took 14 years to write “Monster in the Middle” and that she usually works on several projects at the same time. She easily moves from one to another without worrying that she is not on a schedule, and she told the Source she writes without an ending in sight.
“I never have writer’s block. My anxiety comes from different ways,” she said.
Another process Yanique follows is to research thoroughly. Newspapers and magazines, paintings from the time periods she is covering, and even watching people is research, she said. When she wanted to learn how to write in a male voice, she sat in a group of men and just listened to them talk.
Yanique said she spent six years in the libraries’ archives before she wrote a word on her first novel, “Land of Love and Drowning,” which won the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award, a Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction, and the Phillis Wheatley Award in Fiction. NPR listed her’s as one of the best books of 2014, and it was a finalist for the Orion Award in Environmental Literature and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.
Yanique said her research also includes novels by people she admires and those who are writing about what she is trying to accomplish.
“I want to be better than those novels, but I can’t be better if I don’t know what they’re doing,” she said.
She advised young writers and artists and those young in the process to also find who they admire and learn from their work.
“Be in an apprenticeship at all times,” she said, “And live your life with bravery and panache.”
Yanique also wrote “Wife,” a poetry collection, and “How to Escape from a Leper Colony,” a collection of short stories, that won her a listing as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35. She has also been awarded the Books Award for Caribbean Fiction, Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship, and an Academy of American Poet’s Prize. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, Best African American Fiction, the Wall Street Journal, American Short Fiction, and other publications.
Yanique is a professor at Emory College of Arts and Sciences. She also belongs to a group of scholars who study archives about the Virgin Islands in the United States, Denmark, and the territory. The Virgin Islanders Studies Collective works under Black feminist principles, she said, and will hold a conference on Feb. 26 and 27 through a National Endowment for the Arts grant.