An Evening with Aminatta Forna

It is not uncommon for college students to have doubts about their own paths or to feel that they may be wasting their time. Award-winning author Aminatta Forna, brought in by the Honors College for their series of visiting writers, gave insight to her own experiences through her Q&A session on Feb. 5.

For those who may not know Forna, she was born in Scotland but raised mostly in Sierra Leone. She has written “The Hired Man”, “The Memory of Love and Ancestor Stones”, “Happiness” and a memoir, “The Devil that Danced on the Water.”

Just before reading from her latest novel, “Happiness,” Forna revealed that the book was created from a fascination with people’s ability to survive pain. This concept struck a chord with her during the civil war in Sierra Leone, both from watching from afar and going back to visit the country. Forna saw how devastated and ruined the country was and how deeply traumatized the people were, but also how the same people managed to live through the pain they experienced.

Throughout her reading of “Happiness,” Forna was able to cast a spell on the audience. With her soothing voice and charming accent, everyone’s attention shifted to the story being read aloud.

When asked the question, “What advice would you give younger self that was struggling to become a successful writer?” Forna’s response seemed to resonate with the room.

“Nothing is wasted,” Forna said simply. In terms of careers, majors or life experiences in general, none of that is ever wasted. They all teach you something or give you something to work with.

Despite the fact that she took, in her words, “those loathsome three years of law,” receiving an education in this field helped her to hone in on skills that she uses as a writer now.

When the room opened up for discussion, it was revealed that Forna did not originally plan to be a writer. Although she always loved the concept of storytelling, the options presented by her parents when first attending college were either to become a lawyer or doctor. Having previously gone through careers as a reporter and filmmaker, it took awhile for her to get to the path she is on now.

Forna also advised aspiring writers to save their royalties earned from their work as opposed to spending them, which was something she learned from her experience on the board of trustees at Royal National Theatre in London that gave funds to writers who could not make ends meet.

“We were just throwing it [money] at them,” joked Forna. She admitted that being a writer was a financially precarious career.

Despite the struggles of being a writer, Forna returned to the idea that nothing is ever wasted.

“Even if someone is brutal towards you, use it. You think, ‘Okay, you are being brutal, but this is material!’” Forna said.

So, even if you feel lost or unsure about what you are doing now, just keep in mind that nothing is ever wasted. Something can always come out of whatever you are doing, or in this case, studying for midterms.


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