In this episode of The Archive Project, we feature a conversation from the 2021 Portland Book Festival. This live event was moderated onstage by Andrew Proctor, on the theme of “Aftermath,” bringing together the authors of two haunting novels which explore contemporary global events through stories of people in the middle of the crises.
Myriam J. A. Chancy’s What Storm, What Thunder follows ten survivors as they navigate the fallout of the catastrophic Haitian earthquake of 2010. Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise is told from the point of view of two children caught in the global refugee crisis, a boy who arrives on the shores of an island and the girl who tries to help him escape.
A warning: You might want to have some tissues handy. These are not easy subjects – disasters natural and man-made – and Myriam and Omar speak with uncommon grace and empathy about the people living through the very real-world crises depicted in their fiction. Their empathy is something remarkable and hopeful to witness.
Myriam J. A. Chancy is a Guggenheim Fellow and HBA Chair of the Humanities at Scripps College. She is the author of What Storm, What Thunder, a novel on the 2010 Haiti earthquake (Harper Collins Canada/Tin House USA 2021) which has been named a Best Book of Fall by TIME, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Good Housekeeping, Buzzfeed and more. Past novels include: The Loneliness of Angels (Peepal Tree 2010) winner of the 2011 Guyana Prize in Literature Caribbean Award, for Best Fiction 2010; The Scorpion’s Claw (Peepal Tree Press 2005); and Spirit of Haiti (Mango 2003), shortlisted in the Best First Book Category, Canada/Caribbean region of the Commonwealth Prize, 2004. She has authored several academic books, including, Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (Rutgers 1997; ebook, 2011). She served as an editorial advisory board member for PMLA from 2010-12, as a Humanities Advisor for the Fetzer Institute from 2011-13, and as a 2018 advisor for the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Omar El Akkad is an author and a journalist. He has reported from Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, and many other locations around the world. His work earned Canada’s National Newspaper Award for Investigative Journalism and the Goff Penny Award for young journalists. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Le Monde, Guernica, GQ, and many other newspapers and magazines. His debut novel, American War, is an international bestseller and has been translated into thirteen languages. It won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, the Oregon Book Award for fiction, and the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, and has been nominated for more than ten other awards. It was listed as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, NPR, and Esquire, and was selected by the BBC as one of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. His latest novel is What Strange Paradise.
Andrew Proctor has been the director of Literary Arts since 2009. Born and raised in Canada, Proctor, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Music at Concordia University in Montreal, and later worked in London for the Cultural Attaché to the Canadian High Commission. In the UK, he also earned an MA in English Literature at the University of East Anglia under the supervision of England’s then Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. From 2000-2004 Proctor worked as an editor for HarperCollins in New York City and then as the Membership and Operations Director of the PEN American Center, a global literary and human rights organization focused on the welfare of writers and editors. In total, Proctor has worked in the literary world for over twenty years in the governmental, for profit and nonprofit sectors.