Courtesy of Palma and Mort

Prof. Raul Palma, Ithaca College, and Prof. Valzhyna Mort, Cornell, were featured in a virtual writer event that explored odysseys.

April 15, 2021

Odyssey Writer Series Virtually Connects Local and International Writers to Ithaca Communities

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In a series of four virtual events, pairs of Ithaca-based writers have presented work on the theme of physical, intellectual or emotional odysseys in the monthly reading series Odysseys: Ithaca Writers on Exile, Wandering and Searching for Home. 

The April 13 installment of the event featured one local and one international writer — Prof. Raul Palma, creative writing, Ithaca College, and Prof. Valzhyna Mort, literatures in English, a renowned Belarusian poet. The second of four events took place April 13, jointly sponsored by the Ithaca City of Asylum, Global Cornell and the Cornell migrations Initiative

According to organizer David Guaspari, vice chair of the ICOA’s board of directors, the event series offers short, interesting ways to engage with writers and community members who may be burnt out by a difficult year. It incorporated a range of writers from many backgrounds.

“Since Ithaca is full of interesting writers who have come from all over the world for all sorts of reasons, it was natural,” Guaspari wrote in an email to The Sun. 

Palma writes short stories and novels inspired by his Cuban-American heritage and the culture of Miami. The first chapter of his novel “Manteca” received an honorable mention in Best “American Short Stories.” As assistant professor of writing at Ithaca College, he serves as the faculty advisor to “Stillwater Magazine.”

At the event, he shared an excerpt from his novel “A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens,” which follows a man battling debt in postcolonial America.

“I can’t wait to read more of this novel. I saw, heard, and felt Miami — a place I’ve never been,” Kate Blackwood, ICOA’s board secretary, told the Sun after the event.

Mort, the second presenter, is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus. She has authored the poetry collections “Factory of Tears,” “Collected Body,” “Music for the Dead” and “Resurrected.” At the event, she shared an excerpt of her poetry detailing the struggles of her family in postwar Belarus. 

“What stuck in my mind on hearing this was the surreal story of a child unaware that someone had been living in the spare bedroom for years,” Guaspari said.  “It has elements of both a horror story and a comedy.”

Both works illustrated places with violent histories and explored the impact of that violence on familial legacy while centering characters who experienced a great degree of social isolation.

Both Guaspari and Blackwood advised young writers to read widely and write extensively in order to develop their craft, as well as to get involved with writing communities such as the ICOA. 

“Finish things. Expect lots of rejection,” Guaspari added. “What you can hope to get out of a writing class is some collection of principles you can use to be a good reader and editor and critic of yourself.”