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Poet, Essayist Aimee Nezhukumatathil Inspires FHU Students to Discover the Wonders of the World

Poet, Essayist Aimee Nezhukumatathil Inspires FHU Students to Discover the Wonders of the World

PR Newswire

Nezhukumatathil visits creative writing class, discusses writing process and encourages students to write about what they love.

HENDERSON, Tenn., Oct. 6, 2022 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- Essayist and poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil smiles like an axolotl when faced with a challenge, finds endless inspiration amongst the world's flora and fauna and encourages everyone to find empathy for others through prose, poetry and literature. In late September, she visited Freed-Hardeman University, becoming the first mainstream author in recent years to guest lecture on the campus.

Nezhukumatathil's works have earned her national recognition and acclaim from the literary community including The New York Times and Barnes & Noble. She has written "World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments" (2020). It is in this book that she writes about the axolotl, also called the Mexican Walking Fish, a pink salamander with a perpetual smile. Her additional published works include "Oceanic" (2018); "Lucky Fish" (2011); "At the Drive-In Volcano" (2007) and "Miracle Fruit" (2003).

She is also an English and creative writing professor in the University of Mississippi's MFA program. Nezhukumatathil's visit to Freed-Hardeman University's campus was made possible by the Engaged Learning Initiative, or ELI, and the FHU Department of Communication and Literature. Nezhukumatathil began her afternoon in Dr. Margaret Payne's creative writing course. A dinner was held for her at the Hardeman House, and she ended the evening in Ayers Auditorium with 200 students from various English courses. Many of them were students of Neil Segars, Hannah Graves and Loren Warf, of FHU's English faculty. The classes were reading "World of Wonders" or "Oceanic."

"We were so excited to have Aimee Nezhukumatathil on campus," said Payne, who is the chair of FHU's Department of Communication and Literature. "The students were engaged and we could not have asked for a better turnout."

While in Payne's class, Nezhukumatathil described herself as a life-long learner.

"I'm a full professor, yet I still feel like I'm a student," she said. "And I never want to get to a point where I think I'm the master of poetry."

The class, filled with sophomores, juniors and seniors, some of whom have an interest in teaching and writing, listened to Nezhukumatathil's story about how she discovered modern poetry.

"It was very encouraging to hear her say she discovered poetry later when she was an undergraduate," said Shayli Studer, a senior English education major in Payne's class. Nezhukumatathil talked about the use of persona, or a mask, which is a method writers use to write from a perspective that is not their own. She asked students to discuss fears and phobias, and during an eight-minute free writing session, Nezhukumatathil challenged them to use persona to write about a phobia.

Studer chose to write about ancraophobia, or the fear of wind.

"I enjoyed (the session) and that's something I want to teach my future students, to think for themselves and promote empathy for others," Studer said.

Students wrote about other fears including the fear of flowers (anthrophobia), the fear of the moon (selenophobia) and the fear of cats (ailurophobia), most chose to read their short poems aloud.

"You built something out of 26 letters and eight minutes," Nezhukumatathil said. "You made us all feel empathy. I encourage you to find other phobias to write about that evoke empathy for another person's life."

Students questioned Nezhukumatathil about her study of nature and her writing method.

"When I have time, I make time to chip away at a poem, but my drafts are a hot mess," Nezhukumatathil quipped. "After about 100 or so drafts, I start to take inventory whether I'm writing about childhood, motherhood, or the outdoors. Out of 175 total poems, not all are solid, so I drill down. But I find that I write double in order to get to the 'good stuff.'"

Nezhukumatathil elicited laughter from the students while reading her poems "Are All the Break Ups in Your Poems Real?" "The Mascot of Beaver Creek High Breaks Her Silence" and several passages from "World of Wonders" where she made bird calls and asked students to mimic fireflies by turning on their cell phone flashlights as the room's lights were dimmed.

"It looks so cool; FHU, you look so good," Nezhukumatathil said as she paused to capture the moment on her cell phone.

FHU freshman Ben Cooper took a selfie with Nezhukumatathil after she signed a copy of "World of Wonders" for him.

"It was an amazing book," he said. "I usually have a hard time connecting with reading, but I enjoyed the nature stories. I personally loved the stories about Monarch butterflies and fireflies."

When Nezhukumatathil speaks about fireflies, she is reminded of road trips with her family. She encouraged writers when faced with a blank screen or page, to start with what they love and begin to write about it.

"Be curious, the world is full of wonders, let yourself be astonished," Nezhukumatathil said. "Be a student of something for the rest of your life."

Media Contact

Dawn Bramblett, Freed-Hardeman University, 731-608-7650,


SOURCE Freed-Hardeman University

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