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English Department hosts 2 visiting writers

Published on May 04, 2022

English Department hosts 2 visiting writers

Book covers

The English Department hosted two authors this semester as part of its Visiting Writers Series. Anna Qu visited on April 18 for a Q&A and reading of her debut memoir, “Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor.” Mary Romney-Schaab visited on April 27 for a presentation on her book “An Afro-Caribbean in the Nazi Era: From Papiamentu to German.”

Qu's memoir published in 2021 and tells the story of her life as a Chinese-American immigrant living in New York City. Juggling topics of abuse, neglect, identity, labor and self-worth, Qu’s memoir is "Gripping . . . Well written . . . Brilliantly insightful,” as written by Kirkus Reviews, a book review magazine.
Author Anna Qu
Visiting author Anna Qu

“My book is about a pivotal moment of growing up in Queens as a Chinese immigrant. A lot of this book is about that pivotal moment of what happens after that reconciliation,” said Qu.

Qu’s parents owned a garment factory in New York City that operated like a sweatshop. Everyday after school Qu would travel to the factory where she would work in a loud and hot environment. Her mother attempted to instill the ideology that people of Chinese culture should be hard workers as early as they are able. This was Qu’s reality until the age of 15, when she called Child Protective Services on her mother ― a decision that would alter the rest of her life.

“We’re not just writing something from us; we’re adding to an entire conversation that’s been happening for a long time,” said Qu. “Memoir has changed a lot in the past 40 years. It used to be that you can write your entire life’s story in a memoir, but that’s not the case anymore. Memoir is a sliver of time because you want readers to experience what it was like.”

On April 27 author Mary Romney-Schaab gave a presentation on her new oral history book, “An Afro-Caribbean in the Nazi Era: From Papiamentu to German.” The book tells the story of Romney-Schaab’s father, Lionel Romney, and his 1940–44 experience as a non-combatant prisoner of war shipped away to one of the most infamous concentration camps in Austria during World War II.

Romney-Schaab began by giving a definition of what oral history is. “It is the intersection of a person’s lived experience with historical events and recorded interviews of the person talking about that intersection,” she said. “Oral history really creates a bridge between individual healing experience and historical events. It personalizes history by describing it through the perspective of an eyewitness and putting a human face on it,” said Romney-Schaab.

Lionel Romney was born and raised on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten where the primary spoken language was Papiamentu, a mixture of Dutch, African, English, Portuguese and Spanish. Prior to being captured, Romney was a sailor for cargo ships. In June 1940, he was sailing on a Greek merchant ship when it crashed into a floating mine in the Mediterranean Sea and began to sink. Rescued by the Italian Navy, Romney was turned into a political prisoner for four years and had to endure starvation, brutal treatment and constant transportation through the Italian internment camp system.

Romney-Schaab displayed a map of European countries that showed the thousands of concentration camps throughout the entire European continent during World War II. During his final year before being liberated, Romney was placed in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, which was operated to work prisoners to death.

Mary Romney-Schaab
Visiting author Mary Romney-Schaab

Traumatized by the horrors that took place in the concentration camps, Romney refused to speak about it for 40 years, until one day in 1989. Filled with death, fear and torment, Romney and his daughter set about a journey of historical healing.

“Black history has largely been neglected, omitted, untold, excluded and misrepresented,” said Romney-Schaab. “The exclusion of Black history from the mainstream, especially from history books, is a significant element of systemic racism because it makes Black people invisible to others and to ourselves. It creates the impression that we did not have a role in certain episodes in history.”

Romney-Schaab shared her interests in unifying the older generation with the generations of the future and wanting to learn about her family’s role in history, as the inspiration for her to start a journey filled with trauma, healing and memory alongside her father.

As outlined by the book’s description, “An Afro-Caribbean in the Nazi Era: From Papiamentu to German” is described as “Framed within the context of Lionel Romney’s Caribbean origins, World War II and the Nazi camp system, as well as Mary’s own observations, this volume is part oral history, part memoir and part history. As such, it is a story of an ordinary man caught in extraordinary circumstances; a father’s survival and a daughter’s journey.”

Written by Bobbi Brown

Categories: English