Anna Badkhen Transcends Cultures Through Immersion Writing

Lectures & Discussions

A conversation with Anna Badken on immersion writing facilitated by Mellon fellow Maggie Messitt.

By immersing oneself into another’s world, a deeper understanding and appreciation for one another can be fostered.

Journalism welcomed literary nonfiction writer Anna Badkhen to Denison this fall.

Badkhen, the author of six books of nonfiction, gave an author talk and led a conversation on immersion writing facilitated by Mellon “Writing in Place” Fellow Maggie Messitt for students and faculty.

The former war correspondent aims to let questions of morals and ethics guide her writing. She has written about fishing towns in Senegal, carpet weavers in Afghanistan, walked with the world’s largest group of Nomads in Mali, and more.

Her most recent book, Fisherman’s Blues, chronicles her nine months immersed in Joal Fadiout, Senegal, a fishing town. Badkhen focuses on the effects of climate change, economic and cultural change, and Western greed on the life of a Senegalese fishing port. She describes it as a book about human ambition, love, and companionship which ultimately contributes to what makes us human.

Badkhen has had work published in the New York Review of Books, The Common, Granta, Guernica, and the New York Times. She is a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, Barry Lopez Visiting Writer in Ethics and Community Fellowship, and the Joel R. Seldin Award from Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

She explained the importance of always trying to ask questions to better understand one another. “We don’t pay attention, and that can lead to us being nasty to each other.” By asking questions and “keeping our hearts open,” we can begin to bridge divides that lie between us.

Her short stories often focus on immigrants largely because “outsiders may be able to illuminate things in ways that eliminate a perspective that might be mundane.”

Badkhen, who often lives nomadically for her work, described writing in trenches and Humvees, and encouraged writers to be able to write anywhere.

“All of my life goes into working, the rest is scholarly research.” Badkhen talked to students about her writing process described as largely empirically based with a considerable amount of research on what she is going to immerse herself in before and after.

Badkhen is from St. Petersburg, Russia, and has lived in Moscow, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Afghanistan, Mali, and Senegal. She described beginning to feel like she is living somewhere rather than just visiting when, “I begin to do what anchors me, and I can do what my purpose is, which is to write, there.”

This event was funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a gift by alumna Sue O’Donnell.

Posted Date 
Monday, October 28, 2019

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