Noted essayist to lecture on culture, writing

Jennifer Nacin

Born into a Jewish-Turkish-Italian family in Alexandria, Egypt, later residing in Italy and France, Andre Aciman knows the meaning of culture clash firsthand.

Aciman, who later immigrated to the United States, will give his lecture, “Writing, Exile and Cunning,” at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

Aciman will discuss the process of creatively communicating his experiences and memories of cultural loss through personal essays and in memoir form, explaining how other writers can do the same.

“Something profound happens to us every single day,” Aciman said. “It is the job of a writer to capture that and explain it and make sure it is understood.”

Sheryl St. Germain, director of the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities, said Aciman is one of the most noted essayists of this era.

Aciman is the headliner for the lecture series “Cultures and Contact/Cultures and Conflict,” and students interested in the clash of culture and personal essay writing would benefit from hearing him, she said.

“He is writing from the perspective of someone who is coming from two cultures,” she said. “He has interesting perspectives on emigrating from one culture to another.”

Attendees will benefit from the topics of content and structural issues of writing, St. Germain said.

“I am particularly interested in how we define who we are vis-…-vis after we’ve written about our past,” Aciman said. “Writing changes you — that’s why we write.”

Writing about life experiences can help writers document their lives and can help them continue to live through their writings, Aciman said.

“Part of writing about your past is wanting to put it behind you,” he said. “Part of it is you wanting to remember. But also what happens when you write about your past is you go on living.”

Aciman has discussed the subject of experience translation for many years and said he once told an interviewer that it was not because he grew up in Egypt that he had a good story to tell.

“We all have good stories,” he said. “It’s just that to find this tale we must each travel back into our own ‘Egypt’ — into our own secret maze of desires, images, and memories — our own hell. And not everyone wants to.”

Aciman said writers occasionally think that by writing about their pasts, they’ve somehow captured their memories and laid to rest unpleasant experiences in life they wish to forget. That is not always the case, he said.

“You see that some things have not been put to bed or they have come back in different forms,” Aciman said.

Aciman is a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate College and is best known for his memoir, “Out of Egypt,” a depiction of his family’s life in Alexandria.

He also authored “False Papers,” a 14-essay collection that investigates ideas and memories of home, identity and exile.

At the conclusion of the lecture, Aciman will be joined on stage by John Monroe, assistant professor of history, for a public interview.