BEING ‘OTHER’ Writer responds to suicide of gay teen through poetry

BY NATALIE ACCARDI

On March 10, Professor Suzanne Parker visited the college and read poems from her book “Viral,” which was written in response to the suicide of Tyler Clementi.

The event was held in the college’s Everett I.L. Baker Library. The event was held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and it included a book signing and reception at the end.

On Sept. 22, 2010, Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a roommate filmed him kissing another man. Clementi was eighteen years old. After Clementi committed suicide, police became involved. Dharun Ravi was the student who set up the webcam. Molly Wei was the student whose computer was set up to view the footage. Ravi was brought to trial for hate crimes, which was controversial because of the debate regarding what Ravi’s intent was and what actually defines a hate crime, according to Parker and The Tyler Clementi Foundation.

Parker’s book “Viral” won the Kinereth Gensler Book Award and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry. Parker also wrote “Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing.” Parker, a poetry editor for MEAD: A Journal of Literature and Libations, also serves as a director of the Creative Writing program at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey.

Parker said she could not ignore Clementi’s story.

“I live in Manhattan and I drive over the George Washington Bridge every day to get to work in New Jersey and this is the bridge he jumped off of. So in essence, every single day I kept repeating his lonely walk across that bridge. He passed two help phones on the way,” Parker said.

Parker, who did the reading for free, said she enjoyed reading her work.

“As a writer, you know the loneliness of staring at a blank page. Giving readings is wonderful because it actually gets you out of that loneliness in a way,” Parker said.

Parker said her creative process begins with drawing out what she plans to write.

“I would start drawing and then the poems came from that. A lot of the first draft of the book is written in charcoal sketches,” Parker said.

Parker said her writing begins with letting her subconscious take over and then going back to consciously revise. According to Parker, knowing where she wants her writing to end up makes it become like an essay.

“There’s always the idea that writing a poem is like asking a question. It’s discovering as you go and letting a poem go where it wants to go,” Parker said. “If I keep putting too tight a reign on it, there’s no discovery. The poem ends up exactly where people would expect it to go.”

Parker said she does not remember when she started writing and that she has no memory of not writing.

“I’ve written my whole life, since I was a kid. When my dad died, I found in the top closet a little poetry book I had made with crayons and kind of folded it over on construction paper,” Parker said. “And he kept it all that time.”

Parker said her favorite authors and books change because over time, people change along with what interests them. Parker said one of her inspirations is “Pure” by Carol Frost.

“I run around like a little disciple and say ‘You must read this,’ and it’s great because it’s a little white cover and I

burnt it. It’s scorched all around the edges because I accidentally left it near a gas flame on my stove,” Parker said. “So ‘Pure’ is burnt.”

Professor Laurel Peterson, a faculty member of the English Department and coordinator of the event, said Parker wrote about issues that could be relevant to those at the college.

“She touched on a lot of issues that are relevant to students at NCC like bullying and sexuality and all the kind of stuff at 20 that’s tough to figure out,” Peterson said.

Santia Rene, a 20-year-old Literature major and editor-in-chief of the college’s literary magazine Musings, said the magazine’s staff was responsible for advertising the event and that Parker’s reading changed her perception of “Viral.”

“Hearing it was different than actually reading it,” Rene said.

Mark Sugden, a 24-year-old Digital Journalism major, said he could relate to “Viral” because he had experienced bullying due to his sexuality. Sugden said he thinks that “Viral” would be beneficial for high school students to read.

“I feel like this book would be used well for high school to show that there are other people out there from the norm and that different is okay,” Sugden said.

Amanda Vega, a 20-year-old Psychology major, said that Clementi’s suicide, the catalyst for “Viral,” emphasized that people need to change how they treat others.

“We need to change what we do with the world, how we react to one another. We have to be more accepting,” Vega said.

Linda Spadaccini, a 19-year-old Nursing major, said “Viral” highlighted how everyone is different.

“Everyone needs to be more accepting. Everyone should somehow understand where everyone is coming from. No one walks in everybody’s shoes,” Spadaccini said.

“Viral” can be purchased at www.amazon.com or at the college’s bookstore.

Parker said what affected her the most was how close Clementi was to an accepting community.

“He was in New Jersey. He was so close to New York City. He was so close to a queer community that would have embraced him or even a community that is incredibly accepting and absorbing of all types of queerness,” Parker said. “I think this book is about difference and otherness and who hasn’t felt other?”

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