Temple Times Online Edition
    SEPTEMBER 23, 2004
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‘Caucasia’ author Senna provides insight into race, writing

Temple’s third annual summer reading initiative culminated with the author’s visit, but the project continues with a series of films and discussions

Caucasia author Danzy Senna chats with students Twisa DeSai, Antoinette Pitts and Revae Robinson while signing copies of her book. Senna came to Main Campus last week for a series of events culminating the University’s summer reading program.

Temple’s 3,900 freshmen may have been wondering what all the fuss on campus over the summer reading project was about. They got their answer and payoff on Sept. 14 when Danzy Senna, the author of Caucasia, the University’s choice for its third annual freshman reading project, delivered a riveting talk about the origins of her book and perceptions of race in America.

“No matter what a student’s major is, this book has something to offer you,” said Associate Vice Provost Jodi Levine Laufgraben, the project coordinator, in welcoming Senna.

Proof soon followed when Senna opened her discussion by asking students a series of race-related questions — for example, whether students considered themselves of mixed race or born to parents of two different class backgrounds. After a handful of questions, Senna also had proved Temple’s diversity, as nearly everyone in the crowd of more than 300 people was standing.

Senna recounted the racial tension she met as a child growing up in a mixed-race family in the “Deep North” of 1970s Boston, an adolescence upon which Caucasia is loosely modeled. Caucasia, her debut novel, charts the course of a biracial girl, Birdie Lee, who is forced to go underground with her white mother. Birdie takes on the identity of a Jewish girl, while her black father and sister leave the country. She grapples with many coming-of-age issues and ultimately tries to reconnect with her father, her sister and her past.

The author shared writing tips as well before opening the floor to questions. Students, staff and administrators used the forum for a healthy discussion on attitudes about race and the writing process.

Earlier in the day, Senna talked with two more-intimate groups. She and a small group of English and creative writing students discussed the craft of writing. During lunch, Senna ate with a group of freshman criminal justice majors.

Though the centerpiece of the summer reading initiative, the author visit, has concluded, the project will continue this month with a film series and faculty-led discussions during the Commuter Coffee program each Wednesday.

- By Ted Boscia

Read more about Temple's third annual Summer Reading Project