Last Thursday, novelist Alexandra Fuller, the third speaker in the 2012-13 Babel speaker series sponsored by Just Buffalo Literary Center, presented a speech that made audience members question their true identities and their roles in the community.
The night began with Noah Falck, education director at Just Buffalo, highlighting the importance of teaching young people writing skills, and telling of the positive work Just Buffalo is doing in Buffalo’s public, private, charter and Catholic schools. Amira Almadrahi, a student at Southside Elementary School, then presented her original poem, highlighting the talent students in Buffalo have to offer.
Barbara Cole then introduced Fuller, telling of her “hard-hitting” work that not only contains universal themes but whose “brutally candid” tone evokes serious self-reflection.
Despite the formality of the setting at Kleinhans Music Hall, Fuller appeared comfortable and had no problem disclosing her inner feelings and triggers for her work. Additionally, even though the book that was the focus of her speech was “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” she touched on universal themes throughout her works, and her personal struggles.
Fuller spoke much about her family and how growing up in South Africa affected her development as a child and a writer. Fuller’s mother, who said she “wanted to produce a biographer,” always pushed writing on Fuller as a child and encouraged her to grow through her writing. Her comedic interludes regarding her sister, “the illiterate one,” provided comic relief that literary speeches often lack.
Fuller’s speech did not focus on one particular book but rather on the motives behind writing them. In the beginning of her career, Fuller said she was rejected several times and eventually told to “just write the truth.” The pure truth inspired Fuller to write about her people, Anglo-Africans. Fuller said despite the poor politics and indifferent parenting methods, she “loved her people.” However, after her first novel she distanced herself and eventually became an American citizen. Fuller said becoming a U.S. citizen has had a profound impact on her life. For the first time she was able to speak her mind about topics that were censored in her country.
Fuller’s sharing of intimate self-reflection forced audience members to reflect on their own lives and experiences.
Fuller said her goals through writing were to “make people feel uncomfortable” by discussing topics that may be off-limits to most. Her unusually open dialogue about her family dysfunction and racial tensions growing up provided a different take on the usual speech style. Fuller’s candid speech provided a thought-provoking presentation that highlighted familial and one’s innermost struggles.
Lillian Kahris is a sophomore at City Honors.