Acclaimed author NoViolet Bulawayo ’07 returns to the Hilltop to discuss We Need New Names – her award-winning first novel and the University’s 2014 Common Reading – with the Dallas community. Her talk will begin at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater.
The lecture and Q&A are free and open to the public.
Bulawayo, known to many at SMU by her given name of Elizabeth Tshele, earned her master’s degree in English from the University in 2007 after receiving her bachelor’s in English from Texas A&M University-Commerce. In 2010, she received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Cornell as a Truman Capote Fellow. She recently completed a 2012-14 Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford.
Her pen name is a tribute both to her mother, who died when she was 18 months old (NoViolet means “with Violet” in her native Ndebele), and to her childhood home, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” says Senior Lecturer in English Diana Grumbles Blackman, director of SMU’s Discernment and Discourse Program and chair of the University’s Common Reading committee. “NoViolet is young, her star is rising, and we think students will be excited about where an SMU education might take them.”
Blackman never met Bulaweyo during her SMU student days, but “many, many of my colleagues are incredibly fond of her,” she says. “She has a lot of fans in the English Department, and they’re thrilled to see her back.”
We Need New Names tells the story of 10-year-old Darling, a Zimbabwean girl whose unexpected opportunity to live in the United States turns out very differently from her fantasies. The semi-autobiographical first novel has received several prestigious awards and recognitions, including the 2014 PEN/Hemingway Prize for Debut Fiction, the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, and the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature.
Additionally, Bulaweyo became the first black African woman to make the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize (in 2013) and made The New York Times’ 2013 Notable Books of the Year list, as well as National Public Radio’s “Great Reads of 2013.”
We Need New Names is only the second work of fiction chosen for the University’s Common Reading since the program began in 2004. The first, How to Be Good by Nick Hornby, was SMU’s Common Reading selection in 2007.
The novel is also the first Common Reading selection to be written by an SMU graduate.