Our Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

As a precaution to help limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and care for our community, Just Buffalo Literary Center has postponed a number of events, and we will follow the guidance of Buffalo Public Schools in terms of Just Buffalo Writing Center programming.

Learn More

On October 3rd, Just Buffalo Literary Center played host to Mohsin Hamid, the first author in the 2018-2019 BABEL speaker series lineup. Arriving in Buffalo, Hamid said, felt in a way like coming home. Upon taking the stage he made note of the parallels between Buffalo and his native Lahore, cities whose best days are thought to be behind them and yet suddenly seem to have more to look forward to than others proclaimed. From the beginning, Hamid established himself as a “familiar stranger”, and the rest of his talk he spent telling that we all share that identity. For almost two hours, Hamid engaged the audience with anecdotes of his own personal history, the rationale behind the use of portals in his novel, the portals we use in real life, and the commitment to the use of imagination in adult life. There are several ways in which Exit West can be construed and analyzed as a piece of fiction, but Hamid clarifies this is a story about first love. It’s important to make the distinction: first love, because by definition, there must be a second or third. Otherwise, it would just be called love. “We find [meaning] in the context of things that end. Of first loves. I thought it would be important to reconnect the idea of transits. Of the fact that everything changes, and that actually a human life consists of having enough courage in the face of the fact that we lose everything, to still live as well as we can imagine.” Hamid’s own life served as a lens through which to write the novel, having roots in Pakistan, California and Princeton throughout his early childhood and young adulthood. It was a jarring experience at times, according to Hamid, which left him moments of insecurity. He shared with the audience that as a young child he did not utter a word for an entire month. After arriving in California and hearing another young child asked: “Why does he speak like that?”, terrifying his parents. Thankfully, for his family, and for us, Hamid spoke again. By the end of that month he was speaking complete English sentences, and found a voice in his silence. Yet despite this victory, language itself was a journey for Hamid. Upon his return to Pakistan as a nine-year-old he realized his fluency in Urdu suffered through his adoption of English. Once again his authenticity as someone who “belonged” was questioned. Hamid came off as a cultural enigma to some, a hybrid of language and places that were difficult, if not impossible, to separate. Yet feeling out of place was not an experience that was unique to him, he realized, and for that, there must be a good reason. Hamid argued that the sensation of strangeness, of being estranged from oneself and one’s surroundings, is universal. It is a bridge between the experiences of those forced from their native lands and those who have lived in the same house their entire lives. We are all migrants