Snapshot: Katie Sweeting (India, 2020/21)
The research process for my historical novel was long, gruelling, but also fun! The people who helped me along the way formed what I call a “community of the curious.”
Thank you for sharing your new short story, ‘Edna’ – which was a very powerful piece and felt particular apposite at this moment in time with its focus on processing trauma and empathy across cultures. Could you tell us a little bit more about the story and what inspired you to write it?
One of my close friends was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. As she explained the chemo treatments to me, I began to write “Edna.” During that time period I wrote several short stories with a similar theme of unexpected encounters – exploring how when two people meet as strangers they can end up having an outsized positive influence on each other’s lives.
The short story form has always struck me as difficult to write in – given you only have limited space to build up characters and themes. Are there particular authors of short stories that have inspired your creative practice?
That’s a great question! I actually prefer the novel genre. There are many authors who have inspired me, but I’ll try to keep my list short: Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gabriel García Márquez, Bharati Mukherjee, James Baldwin, Guy de Maupassant, Jeffrey Archer and many others. I love short stories with a twist!
You’re currently working on a historical novel, 'Remnant', focusing on two of Olaudah Equiano’s female relatives. Could you say a little about what drew you to these figures and how you’ve found the process of writing historical fiction?
I read The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano for my thesis, and as I studied his life, I found myself wondering what happened to his surviving daughter, Joanna Vassa. She was a biracial girl orphaned at the age of two in England in 1797. As the mother of three biracial sons, I was particularly interested in her story.
The research was difficult at first, until I met Angelina Osborne, who wrote a book about Joanna Vassa, which helped immensely. I travelled to England in 2011 and visited the church in Clavering, England where Joanna’s husband Henry Bromley was a Congregational minister, went to her gravesite in Abney Park Cemetery, and met several people who had researched Joanna’s life. Stateside, I visited several plantations in South Carolina, as I situated Equiano’s sister on a rice plantation in Charleston, South Carolina (there is no record of what happened to her after she and Equiano were kidnapped). The research process was long, gruelling, but also fun! The people who helped me along the way formed what I call a “community of the curious.”
Katie Sweeting is an Associate Professor of English at Hudson County Community College in Jersey City, NJ. She teaches online, remote, and face-to-face diverse classes such as Composition 1 and 2, World Literature, British Literature, Speech, and Religions of the West. She has led several workshops for faculty on backward design and online teaching strategies. Katie co-wrote The Power of a City at Prayer, published in 2002. She recently wrote an essay on “How to Raise an Anti-Racist,” published in Daily Oration, and “Edna,” a short story published in Adelaide Literary Magazine. Katie Sweeting is a 2020-2021 Fulbright scholar to India.