Photo credit: Elena Seibert
About Ayana Mathis
Ayana Mathis is the author of the widely acclaimed and New York Times-bestselling novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. She is a dynamic speaker on the craft of storytelling, the creative writing process, African-American history and literature—all within the context of the larger American experience—ideal for university audiences, literary series, libraries, and community reads.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was a New York Times Book of the Year, an NPR Best Book of the Year, and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as the second selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. The novel has been widely hailed as a moving and masterful debut work, bringing the experience of the Great Migration vividly to life through poignant, character-driven chapters.
Ayana Mathis is an MFA graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and now an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the program. She is a 2014-15 Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and has taught at the Writer’s Foundry.
As a graduate and teacher of MFA programs, Mathis finds that discussions about writing often neglect the most important element of fiction: storytelling. This talk, tailored to the needs and skill level of the audience, is dedicated entirely to the craft of literary storytelling. There are no rules in writing, but we have a pretty good set of tools at our disposal. Mathis will touch on her own process, and then move the discussion outward to talk about various matters of craft and technique—from point of view to dialogue to voice—with a concentration on character and character development.
Singing the Unsung
If history is written by the victors, or at least those with the loudest voices, what happens to the stories of the regular folk? In this talk, Mathis will discuss the importance of telling the stories of frequently unsung people: people of color, poor people, women of the lower and working classes. In short, the literature of the ordinary person. The talk will explore literature produced by or about these people, as well as draw on Mathis’ own work and background.
Why We Read
There's a lovely but slightly antiquated term for essays about books that used to appear in newspapers and periodicals around the country: literary appreciation. The phrase calls to mind teacups and doilies, but those essays asked real questions about what we read, and why we read it. What is it about a Eudora Welty story that grips us? Why is James Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain important? How is Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom relevant? The best books reveal some aspect of what it is to be human, this talk will focus on how certain works do just that.
The American Migrant
We are a nation of migrants. The difficulties of displacement and the narratives of reinvention and nation-building are quintessential American struggles and triumphs. The Great Migration, a migratory movement of 6 million blacks from the south to the north, profoundly changed the United States geographically, culturally, and artistically. This talk is about the ways in which migration is explored in Mathis’s own work and in the literature of the Great Migration and other migratory movements. The focus is on character and the lives of individuals as they create and are influenced by larger historical and social factors.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Mathis will read from and discuss the themes and characters of her best-selling novel.
Praise for Ayana Mathis
Ayana was amazing. The audience was so thrilled with her presentation. She is an incredible person—so thoughtful and intelligent and creative. And the Q&A portion of the evening blew us all away—the discussion she created was honest and beautiful and so rewarding to our community.— St. Louis County Library
Praise for The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters' stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison's writing, and her sense of time and place and family will remind some of Louise Erdrich, but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own — both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts.— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Mathis renders her characters with vivid strokes, and, like her heroine, she is both compassionate and unsentimental about hardscrabble lives.— The New Yorker
Visceral, heart-wrenching. . . . An exceptional first novel.— St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Like Toni Morrison, the author has a gift for showing just how heavily history weighs on families.— Entertainment Weekly
An intimate, often lyrical daisy-chain of stories. . . . We feel the exhilaration of starting over, the basic human need to belong, and the inexorable pull back to a place that, for better and worse, you call home.— Vogue
Enthralling. . . . One remarkably resilient woman is placed against the hopes and struggles of millions of African Americans who held this nation to its promise.— The Washington Post
The opening pages of Ayana's debut took my breath away. I can't remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.— Oprah Winfrey
Books by Ayana Mathis
Media About Ayana Mathis
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- Ayana Mathis travels from Brooklyn, NY
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
"Raw and intimate . . . a brutal and poetic allegory of a family beset by tribulations. . . . Mathis tempers the more operatic elements with tenderness and knowing glimpses into the human heart struggling to love . . . deeply felt." —Isabel Wilkerson, The New York Times Book Review