Eastern Connecticut State University welcomed author Joan Seliger Sidney on Oct. 6. Sidney was accompanied by Eastern alumnus Jordan Thompson.
Both writers spoke to students about their experiences living with disabilities, while giving advice on how to grow as writers. The Eastern Writers Guild, a student club led by faculty advisor Daniel Donaghy that publishes the annual literary journal “Eastern Exposure,” sponsored the event.
“Joan has been one of the jewels of Connecticut poetry for many years now,” said Donaghy. “Jordan found poetry later in his college career. Neither poet holds back. Neither is afraid to take on the essential questions about what it means to be alive, what their dreams, hopes, sadnesses and frustrations are at any particular time.”
The reading opened up with Christopher Morris, president of Eastern’s Writers Guild, introducing both poets. Thompson began by reading five of his personal poems, bringing audience members to tears. “It was inspiring to see him bring light to such a tragic part of his life,” said Amanda DeMaio, Writers Guild vice president. “I couldn’t help but cry, he spoke such beautiful words.”
As the poets switched positions, Sidney read poems from her two publications, “Bereft and Blessed” and “Body of Diminishing Motion.” She described how she uses her struggle with multiple sclerosis (MS) and experiences as a second-generation holocaust survivor in her writing.
“The more I wrote about it, the more comfortable I became with it,” said Sidney. “A lot of people didn’t know I had a problem, I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want people to look at me differently. But after writing a research paper on MS I felt that I had finally been granted permission not to be afraid of the topic.”
After the reading, the two authors spoke to the audience regarding their writing process. Although it’s difficult sometimes to write things down, both poets always get their thoughts down on paper. “I take a lot of notes,” said Thompson. “Eventually, after pages and pages of notes, it all just comes together.” Sidney expressed her need for deadlines: “I just need them, without them I wouldn’t get anything done.” “I audit courses at UConn and I love being in a class with such amazing students and teachers, who stimulate my writing and help me stay young.”
Sidney grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and attended Brooklyn College for three semesters. She then transferred to City College where she finished her undergraduate degree. For graduate work, Sidney received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Harvard, a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut (UConn) and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing as well as a Picture Book Certificate from Vermont College. Sidney writes mainly about the holocaust and dealing with multiple sclerosis. “It’s important to bear witness to all that was lost, and give those individuals a voice.” Sidney expressed the need to make peace and live with all the tragedies life gives you. “The longer you live the more you realize that everyone has their burdens.” Sidney has worked hard to create inspiring poetry, “Writing is a wonderful gift; it allows us to confront our fears.”
The reading concluded with Sidney advising all writers to read as much as they can. “Poets read a book, copy down a few lines and then create our own poems,” said Sidney. “Read as much as you can by whoever you can, keep journals and if you ever get stuck, steal.”