The University of Iowa

Teemu Manninen, Yaa Gyasi and Muhamed Abdelnabi reading


Listen: Abdelnabi, Gyasi and Manninen reading | September 29, 2013

Two International Writing Fellows were joined by a Writers’ Workshop student for a public reading, on September 29th, 2013 at Prairie Lights Bookstore. The Writing University's Hope Callahan was there to listen and observe:

First, from Egypt, translator, fiction writer, and poet Muhamed Abdelnabi took center stage. Author of  two short story collections, A Rose for Who Betrays and The Ghost of Anton Chekhov, and one novel, The Return of the Sheikh, Abdelnabi opted to read from a long poem rather than his fiction. Alternating between Arabic and English, Abdelnabi’s warm and charming voice was well received. In the work he addressed the body parts of a lover, zoo animals, and the audience. The last group, and I with it, was full of appreciative hums and nods during Abdelnabi’s time at the podium and his last line: “Don’t ask me for my last word – let me live…” elicited a communal sigh from those present.

Next to present their work was Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian born woman raised in Alabama and currently residing in Iowa City while enrolled in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Gyasi read from the beginning of one of her fiction pieces. The story opens on two brothers, born in Ghana, who are different in many ways but both dealing with the obstacle of Cincinnati’s perception of, in the author’s words, “…their blackness versus their Africanness.”  Perhaps drawing from personal experience, Gyasi offered a subtle and intimate view of the complex relationship between adult siblings, and the equally nuanced relationship of two cultures.

Last up was Teemu Manninen, a poet from Finland whose complex poems draw on his rich childhood memories and family life. These poems contained great sounds and I consider myself lucky to have encountered them in the author’s own voice.  Throughout Manninen’s work a dark sense of humor and great clarity of observation pervaded. He offered a view of the “goofily armless” Venus de Milo in one poem, and the crow of Golgotha in the next. At the conclusion of his allotted time he said, “Let’s end it with a love poem then,” perhaps as a respite from the darker themes in his work. Entitled “Dirty Little Things,” Manninen offered a unique take on the love poem. Full of the wry humor and verbal acrobatics consistent in his other poems, the last piece spoke of a creeping and unromanticized version of love that was beautiful nonetheless: “All those dirty things we hid / revealed themselves as hope.”

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