The days before fall break are a hectic time for students. Whether it's rushing to turn in papers or late night studying for midterms before the long weekend, Tuesday's SOCA lounge event proved a welcome respite.
Susana Chávez-Silverman, professor of Romance languages and literatures at Pomona College and, in the words of her student Isaac Harris PO ’18, the “high priestess of slow,” offered students a chance to slow down and step back from the stress of impending deadlines. Students hit pause for an hour to listen to Chávez-Silverman read from her work, both published and unpublished, in the cozy, lamp-lit basement of Clark V.
Chávez-Silverman is known for her unique bilingual writing in which she experiments with code-switching from English to Spanish and back again. Her writing is deeply personal, exploring themes of language, home, and family. Her writing is an extension of the way she speaks—in a language all her own.
This language is neither English nor Spanish, but a unique mixture of the two, peppered with made-up words like “smarm-o-meter” and the French phrase “c’est moi.” Indeed, this dialect is all her, and yet, is somehow understandable to audience members who speak no Spanish at all.
“I think that the code-switching is so natural to hear and also to read,” said Amanda McCullough PO ’18. “That’s unique. She speaks that way, too, and it sounds so effortless, but I know that so much went into crafting it.”
The mere experience of hearing Chávez-Silverman read imbued her words with a personal touch. She sped up, slowed down, and sometimes stopped altogether. She raised her volume and she sing-songed; she even interrupted herself to address the audience. These comments ranged from observations on her writing style to greeting students as she recognized them in the audience.
She joked: “That was a particularly long sentence, sorry,” she said mid-passage. Then, looking at a student lounging in a beanbag: “Are you aslee— I don’t want to know.”
Further adding to the intimate atmosphere was the comfortable setting. Students gathered around on couches, beanbags, and even the floor as they listened, watched, and snacked. Harris said he was unsurprised by the personal nature of the event.
“[Chávez-Silverman] is very unflinching and unafraid to go into tough topics,” he said. “That style that she has in her writing, the sort of very much personal nature, is a huge part of her classes.”
MERGE, the Claremont Colleges' Multi Ethnic and Racial Group Exchange, sponsored the event in conjunction with the Latin American Studies Program, the Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies Program, and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Pomona College.
As a Head Mentor of MERGE, McCullough helped organize the reading.
“Profa identifies as mestiza,” he said. “She’s Chicana and Jewish and part of her writing is about ‘hybridity’, about in-between-ness, about border-writing. I felt that the topics that she touches on in her work are really relevant to the mixed race and multiethnic and transracial adoptees on campus,” said McCullough.
Harris, too, noted the value of Chávez-Silverman’s work beyond its literary value.
“It’s about the things that it teaches you about life and politics and culture,” he said. ”That’s why I’m a Spanish major.”