On November 13, author and lawyer Elizabeth Jaikaran discussed her new collection of short stories and ran a creative writing workshop in two upper level English courses taught by Guttman Associate Professor Nicola Blake, PhD. Students enjoyed the unique opportunity to meet and interact with an acclaimed, local author whose heritage closely resembles many of theirs. Jaikaran served as an embodiment of the success students aspire to as they approach graduation from Guttman Community College.
In the morning workshop, students spent time thinking about Jaikaran’s stories in relation to other women writers they have studied this semester: Edwidge Danticat, Lyn Di Orio, Zora Neale Hurston, and Sylvia Plath. Jaikaran read excerpts from “Leela.” The discussion focused on women’s bodies, lineage, performed gender roles, and the body as a text that both constrains and challenges norms. In the afternoon workshop, the author guided students in activities designed to prompt the generation and elaboration of ideas for short stories. Students received both group and individual consultation from the writer on short story concepts for their final course assignments.
Prior to participating in the workshops, Dr. Blake’s students read and discussed Jaikaran’s writing, which resonated deeply with them. Jaikaran writes: “Trauma breeds insecurity…growing into impenetrable dragons breathing fire into your delicate, grieving chest. […]. Annihilating trauma requires the annihilation of your inhibitions. It requires accepting that it is there, wriggling clumsily through your flesh, and that it is just as much a part of you as your blood type or your favorite song. Over time, it becomes a scattering of sorrowful footnotes worthy of reverence in the pages of a longer boom of redemption. Destroying trauma means loving your identity. It means decolonizing the way you understand yourself. It means forcing yourself to speak and falling in love with your voice” (124).
One student stated in response to the discussion, “women are meant to be everything in the world, but not be the world.” Another student of Honduran descent stated, “there is so much you want to know about yourself but you don’t have access to all the stories. You can only listen in on old stories that your parents share sometimes and infer that within these stories are the lineage of a past unspoken, removed but always evident in their actions.” Jaikaran responded poignantly to the student, “until you are asked to be placed on a spectrum, it is then when you realize what you have lost the most.” Yet, trauma remains a space of redemption.
Born in New York City to Guyanese parents, Jaikaran’s first collection of short stories, Trauma, was published by Shanti Arts in August 2017. This debut book focuses on the experiences of women, girls, and members of the LGBTQIA community both in Guyana and in New York, treating such delicate, often disturbing subject matter with remarkable insight and sensitivity. Jaikaran is a graduate of The City College of New York, CUNY (2012) and of New York University School of Law (2016). In her professional capacities as author and lawyer, Jaikaran’s goal is to give voice to underrepresented communities and individuals.