By ISABELLA LAWRENCE
We all wonder where and how our social science or humanities degree will serve us. Will we be able to find success in that exact field? Or will it assist us in other ways, perhaps towards the pursuit of a somewhat unrelated career path? On Monday, April 8, Jennifer Tseng, a Colorado College alumnae, returned to campus to share a reading from her new book “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness,” in addition to several poems from an earlier publication entitled “The Man With My Face.”
Jane Hilberry, a CC English department professor, introduced Tseng, a former student of hers. Hilberry spoke proudly of Tseng’s accomplishments, stating that “every project and every book that she’s undertaken has drawn awards and acclaim,” including “a yearlong room of her own fellowship” following her graduation from CC, and subsequently receiving both the Asian American Workshop National Poetry Manuscript competition and the PEN American Open Book Award for “The Man With My Face.” “There are more, too,” finished Hilberry.
Tseng began her talk by reminiscing on her time at CC. “Some of my best memories of CC were of working in the letter press,” she shared, stating that “this was back when the press was in the basement of Jackson House … which was also one of the places I lived.” This experience of Tseng’s was shared with her friend, the artist Margaret Kilgallen, who passed away only 11 years after her graduation from CC. It was to Kilgallen that Tseng dedicated this reading.
Jumping into her most recently published book, Tseng began with a bit on her writing process and how the setting and inspiration for “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” came to her. “Although the island is never named [she said]. ‘Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness’ is set on Martha’s Vineyard, and I am pretty in love with that island, its people, and its palate, and just the way of life,” she said. Tseng, who lived there for many years while working as a librarian, began investigating how a community like Martha’s Vineyard would react to the actions of the characters in her novel.
Tseng shared how she used to “come to work [as a librarian]” and “ask the ladies questions. You know, I would say, ‘how do people meet people on this island?’ or ‘if two people were going to have a secret rendezvous, where would they meet?’ and ‘if the main character was going to sleep with a seventeen-year-old, would you hold it against her?’” For Tseng, the answers of the librarians and the confessions of the townspeople drastically changed and shaped the way she constructed her book.
Tseng’s reading, while interesting and complex purely as a literary endeavor, was also a reminder of the power of community and the value of ours here at CC. This was exemplified by the reunion of Tseng with the English department faculty and the dedication to Margaret Kilgallen, as well as Tseng’s assertion that Mayumi’s feelings about Martha’s Vineyard “remind me now a little bit of the CC community, because you know when you’re on a small island or in a small community you have this sense in all weather that you kind of have to take care to preserve the peace, because there’s nowhere else to go.” The evening celebrated an impressive and inspiring alum and reminded us of many great things that Colorado College has to offer.