Posted by Carrie Seche, CNF reader for issue 4.2
SUNY Geneseo had the pleasure of receiving Sonja Livingston on Monday, March 7, for a reading from her book of essays, Queen of the Fall. Livingston read “Mock Orange,” an essay she had never read to an audience before. While on campus, she also conducted a workshop and spoke with students in regards to their own writing. Livingston splits her time between Rochester and Tennessee as an assistant professor in the University of Memphis’ MFA program. Queen of the Fall is her second book.
Livingston’s book is so intriguing because she wrote each essay about a woman in her life that has personally inspired her, or has played a large role in her life, from Susan B. Anthony, to her writing professor Judith Kitchen, to the Land O’ Lakes butter woman. The essay she read, “Mock Orange,” targets the issue of fertility, focusing on her young niece’s teenage pregnancy and her own personal infertility. Livingston’s essay is brave, forcing the reader to reconsider our judgements, and biases specifically regarding teenage pregnancy.
By discussing her young niece’s pregnancy, and discussing the power that poverty had on her family history, she made a powerful point in her essay. It was even more interesting how Livingston then used her niece’s pregnancy as a point to branch off and discuss her own disappointments regarding her inability to have children. This was particularly interesting because she discussed how she helped raise her niece with her sister, so while her niece’s failure to rise above poverty was not surprising, it was still a jarring disappointment.
Livingston’s simple, yet very personal essay, opened a door to an important discussion of poverty and how it effects young women. Their inability to escape the circumstances and stereotypes they were born into. Livingston wrote beautifully about these circumstances and revealed the differences between her upbringing and that of the majority of SUNY Geneseo students. She spoke about simple pleasures, such as access to an ice machine, or the freedom to go out to eat whenever she chose, and how those luxuries represented her personal escape from poverty.
To learn more about Sonja Livingston, or purchase one of her books, visit http://www.sonjalivingston.com/index.html.