The author drew upon statistics and personal experience in her lecture on trauma.
Aminatta Forna, the J. Donald Feagin visiting artist, discussed the history of trauma in literature this past Thursday at the Adelson auditorium in Tyrell Hall. She read a passage from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” which is widely viewed as one of the first descriptions of PTSD in literature. However, trauma wasn’t directly addressed in literature until war poets, like Robert Graves, who were in the trenches of World War I, wrote about the trauma they experienced. Coincidentally, that war is when doctors and psychologists first started discovering PTSD and asking why men in the trenches came back differently.
Forna also discussed her background and the reasons that drew her to write about trauma. She has a unique heritage, with a Scottish mother and her father from the west African country Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone experienced a civil war from 1991–2002, which greatly affected Forna and her family. Her father was imprisoned many times during the war as a political prisoner and was murdered by the state when she was 11. As shown by Forna’s story, the civil war was a traumatic event for Sierra Leoneans, and unfortunately because of the nature of the conflict, many citizens had traumatic experiences during the war.
This conflict was particularly devastating to the civilian population, Forna explained, because warfare had changed over the century. Instead of only soldiers dying and experiencing PTSD from war, like in World War I, in modern warfare, civilians are also affected.
She cited the statistic that 90 percent of the casualties in modern wars are civilians. Forna’s experiences and research drew her to writing about the topic. Specifically, in her works, she wanted to show how civilians coped with this trauma —how people dealt with living in a former war zone, as well as living among the people who committed atrocities against you, your family and your people.
Forna’s latest novel, “Happiness,” follows Attila, a trauma specialist who travels all over the globe. Forna said that through happiness, she wanted to show that it is possible to come back from great trauma and find happiness.
Forna finished by reading a couple of excerpts from her book and answering audience questions. She was a mesmerizing speaker with a lovely accent, and I really enjoyed learning about her backstory and how her writing makes a difference.
Forna is a prolific author. She has published four novels as well as a memoir. She has won several awards for her writing, including a Windham Campbell Award from Yale and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award in 2011. Currently, she serves as the Lannan Foundation Chair of Poetics at Georgetown University.
This event was hosted by the TU creative writing and English department. Their next event is on October 25, where author Jeffrey Eugenides will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of his novel “The Virgin Suicides.”