Topic of the Week: May 31 – June 4, 2010
A sense of belonging is vital to an individual’s personal and social development. Some of the most enduring and endearing characters in literature are misfits, people who don’t have a strong sense of belonging. Think Hamlet, Ivanhoe, Heathcliff, Stephen Douglas, Pip, Huck Finn, Ignatius Reilly, Margaret Simon. What is it about these characters, their misadventures, ponderings, avarice and eccentricities that have captured readers through the centuries? This week in #litchat we’ll discuss books with characters who don’t quite fit in.
Completing the topic this week is guest host Heidi W. Durrow, whose debut novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, features a character caught in between cultures. Not only is Rachel bi-racial, the child of an African-American GI father and a Danish mother, but she’s uprooted from racially tolerant Europe to neo-tolerant white America and onward to the black community of her father’s mother. Compounding her confused sense of belonging is the powerful effect of being the sole survivor of a mysterious family tragedy that killed her mother, brother and baby sister. Primarily told through Rachel’s POV, the novel’s alternating POVs—-such as a boy who witnessed a flash of the tragedy, her mother’s former employer, her father, even her mother’s ex-boyfriend—-provide a journalistic, rather than sensational account of Rachel’s story.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was awarded Barbara Kingsolver’s 2008 Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change. A graduate of Stanford, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Law School, Heidi W. Durrow is the recipient of a Fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Writers, a Jentel Foundation Residency, and won top honors in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Chapter One Fiction Contest. She has received grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the American Scandinavian Foundation, the Roth Endowment and the American Antiquarian Society.
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Heidi has worked as a corporate litigator at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and as a consultant to the National Football League and National Basketball Association. She is the co-host of the award-winning weekly podcast Mixed Chicks Chat; and the co-founder and co-producer of the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival, an annual free public event, that celebrates stories of the Mixed experience.
Durrow’s writing has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Literary Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Callaloo, Poem/Memoir/Story, the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Essence magazine, and Newsday.
Follow Heidi W. Durrow on Twitter at @heididurrow.