Last Tuesday, at 4:30 p.m., two distinct voices shared their written work in Cheever Room of Finn House. Keith S. Wilson, 2018-2019 Kenyon Review fellow in poetry, and Misha Rai, 2018-20 Kenyon Review fellow in prose, treated an audience full of students, professors, poets and admirers of the written word to their poetry and nonfiction.
Wilson, the first of the writers to read, has an unusual background — he has experience writing not only poetry but also dialogue for video games. Wilson’s work has a particular focus on the topic of romantic love that overwhelmingly charmed the audience: There were smiles on numerous faces as he talked about how much he enjoyed writing love poems alongside his fictional endeavors. Wilson admitted that he would be reading some of his less popular works. These were poems that managed to effortlessly blend science-fiction elements, from stars to spaceships, into love poems. No matter what he described, whether it was lips or Jupiter’s moons, the audience always appeared to be enthralled.
Then Rai came to the microphone. She admitted that this was her first time ever reading in front of her father. Stating that she was “terrified” to have him in the audience, she decided to read half of her nonfiction personal essay, which was not about her father, but other family members like her grandparents and uncle on the maternal side of her family. Walking back from the event she asked her father what he thought. “And he said, ‘You know I think all nonfiction is a type of fiction,’” Rai said. “I kind of agreed with him because you know that whole idea that it’s my point of view.”
From her first line, she drew the audience into a whole new world. They were suddenly living in the very house where her father, uncle and grandparents had lived before. They were in India, fearful and angry at the British, while also juggling their own ordinary household conflict.
Rai’s love of her family, despite all of their flaws and quirks, is prevalent in her work. Rai knows her history very well, not just of the British and their abusive relationship with India, but also of the moments that helped define her family — especially her grandmother. She balances humor with the more serious aspects of her family’s past. At the end of her reading, it wasn’t hard to understand the significance of family and what it means to live with one.
“The differences between the two mediums of writing — one being poetry and the other being nonfiction — are almost polar opposites,” said Zach Sclar ’22, a member of the audience. “Yet, both in their own ways, they were able to depict love and what it means to them in effective and beautiful ways.”
After Rai’s reading, Wilson joined her at the front of the room for a Q&A session. Rai spoke about making her story feel authentic, saying, “I think that all writers whether it’s novelists, nonfiction writers, or short story writers, you’re basically looking at the world in a specific way… So everytime I make an announcement about something, it’s my view of it. If you put other people in the room they will look at it differently. When I’m writing I’m just making a stab in the world and saying this is my point of view”.
The Kenyon Review brought two very special voices to the attention of Cheever Room. Wilson touched on the use of structure, including lists, in his poems. Rai showed us a different culture and added very personal touches to a popular time in history. Both writers presented valuable reflections for the audience and brought to light the importance of familial and romantic connections.