Seton Hall hosted its last Poetry-in-the-Round event for the semester on Nov. 17 which featured Elif Batuman, the author of the memoir “The Possessed” and novel “The Idiot.”
Batuman discussed with students her reasoning for writing these works and read from her unreleased sequel to “The Idiot” during the event.
In 2018, Batuman’s novel “The Idiot” was a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction finalist and is about Selin, a college freshman attending Harvard University in the 1990s. Batuman said she wrote the novel because she finds “it frustrating that novels are about people’s childhoods” and instead wanted to depict the life of a female college student.
By writing this novel, Batuman said that she can “go back and see all the paths that weren’t taken” in her own life and explore more about herself.
As she reflected on her childhood, Batuman said she “grew up in New Jersey in a white part of the world at a prep school.” She added that her parents were science teachers and would help them with their English.
Growing up, Batuman “constantly felt like [she] came from another planet” and said she used her writing skills as an escape. She said she based her novel on “experiences [she] had reading” and often uses her novels as ways to explore complex social concepts, such as feminism and homosexuality.
Batuman shared about her motivation for writing and said she “always wanted to write novels.” She added that she wanted to “express different ways of thinking” than she had previously read in other novels and that she is driven by philosophy and social issues.
Writing has not always been easy for Batuman. She said “there’s so much shame and self-hatred” when struggling to come up with a good storyline or when writing something to which she does not feel connected.
Clare Donnelly, a sophomore English and secondary and special education major, said she enjoyed the event. “Batuman proves to be not only relatable, but unique,” Donnelly said.
She added that she believes Batuman’s works are “relevant for most college-aged students.”
While she had not previously read Batuman’s works, Donelly said that she is now going to read “The Idiot” after watching Batuman’s presentation.
Stefanie Stypulkowski, a freshman biology major, attended Batuman’s presentation and said she enjoyed Batuman’s presentation and her work.
“Elif Batuman is a very genuine author that writes about topics that not many other authors touch upon,” Stypulkowski said. “Elif does not hide anything from her readers as she addresses issues and concerns among a lot of her readers.”
While she enjoyed the presentation as a whole, Stypulkowski said one thing stood out to her in particular.
“Her advice about not being ashamed about who you are and what you do stood out to me the most,” Stypulkowski said. “Nowadays, we feel so obligated to fit into the social norms that we forget and become ashamed of ourselves.”
Colleen Dennis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.