Writer’s series kicked off with Harvard graduate

By Alexandra Hawkins

Tania James kicked off the first installment of the James Baker Hall Writer’s Series in the Center Theatre on Tuesday night.

The Writer’s Series is hosted by the Cultural Arts Committee of the Student Activities Board.

The James Baker Hall series honors writers who have been raised or influenced by living in Kentucky, and is designed as a memorial to James Baker Hall, a renowned Kentucky writer and former UK faculty member, according to the SAB website.

Tania James is a 2003 Harvard University graduate, she received her bachelor’s in filmmaking with a minor in creative writing and later received her master’s in fiction at Columbia University.

James lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches creative writing at George Washington University.

Her debut novel “Atlas of Unknowns” was short listed for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

On being labeled a South Asian writer, James said, “I’m most often called an Indian-American writer, never called a South Asian writer, and rarely called a Kentucky writer.”

Her decision to become a writer stemmed from the ever-repeating lesson her grandmother instilled in her to “let nothing go to waste” during her childhood spent learning how to prepare traditional Indian dishes.

“It’s in Kentucky where I got my first dangerous taste of what being a writer was,” James said.

James attended Governor’s School for the Arts when she was in high school and Hall was a speaker one night during her stay.

“He spoke in a way that made his words escape the page with unforced power,” James said. “I was so inspired to find my voice after that.”

When a student prompted James to speak of how to improve as a writer, she gave advice that a previous professor gave her, to look at writers in a mechanical way and learn how they piece their sentences together.

“She really revealed to us how her mind tends to work as a writer, which was fascinating to me,” Austin Tracy, a French freshman, said.

James said her husband travels a lot and that has influence on her writing.

“I like using my travel as a canvas for my fiction, but on the other hand, it feels like dangerous terrain,” James said.

The power of literature is something that James believes is still ever-present in this digital age, saying that novels delve into the minds of characters in a way that no media can.

“It’s so refreshing to see someone be inspired by, and actually love the work they do,” Madison Fugate, a psychology junior, said. “I’ll be interested to see her work develop over the years.”

Hope Johnson and Bianca Briggs are the next writers that will be featured in the series, continuing at 6 p.m. on April 10 with an open mic offered to students to begin the night.