Alone at the podium, with only her words as a shield, Cole shared her story. Poised and confident, her voice, smooth as honey, poured out in a rhythm that captivated the entire audience of friends, family and fellow writers. We were entranced as she pulled us through her fictional world; it became real to us.
This past Friday, Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara presented one of her short stories at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. She read along with Stephanie Chrismon and Sun Yung Shin, all three part of the 2016-2017 Loft Mentor Series.
If you’ve read Nicole’s pieces in 507, you know she crafts beautiful turns of phrase, making art from her words. She uses the name Cole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara when she writes fiction, a tribute to her younger self whose big dreams are now being realized. “Cole makes me feel like my readers are in (an) intimate circle with me, a space where my culture, my identities, experiences and my work as an artist make sense and exist unapologetically,” she said.
Stephanie Chrismon kicked off the evening with two selections of creative non-fiction. Interweaving pop culture with her own life experiences, she performed her prose almost as if it were slam poetry, words clipping along one after another, biting phrases followed by a pause as we held our breath, waiting to hear what came next. Her humor had us laughing at one sentence, her truth had us gasping at the next. Themes of race, sexuality, social justice and self ran through, giving us a glimpse into her life and the lens through which she views the world and her self.
Cole followed, reading a piece titled “Gargoyle,” her first published short story.
While her writing is mesmerizing on the page, she takes it to a whole new level when she reads. The story came to life as she gave it voice, letting it breathe and move and spread its wings.
The poet Sun Yung Shin was the mentor reading on Friday. I was ready for seriousness (since poetry is supposed to be serious, right?) and while there were serious moments, she punctuated her performance with goffy little sidebar comments, catching me off guard and making me, and the rest of the audience, laugh.
Despite the distinct tones and subject matter of the three writers, there was a common likeness to them, an honesty and courage that shone through their words and their performances.
I am lucky to be surrounded by friends who are brave enough to put their creations out into the world. Seeing Nicole in her element was an uplifting experience, one that left me inspired to rekindle my own passions and creativity.
A selection from “Gargoyle”
By Cole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara
One summer you came to stay with us for good. Your mom had up and left and you’d shown up at Abuela’s door with one of those Chinatown carts with a janky wheel and Salchichon, your piglet, half-asleep in a beat up caldero you’d tied up on top with a faded green scarf. Your mother used to wear that scarf wrapped around her head like a crown. The long silk strip had once been a bold and noble green circling the pitch black nebula of her hair. But it had long turned the muted color of an aguacate peel turned wrong side out. It was one of only two things of hers you’d bothered to take: the scarf and the fraying red high-tops, slung over the cart handle.
How you managed to get yourself on the ferry, three different cross-town trains and a transfer onto the Q all the way to us will stay a mystery. Abuela, she didn’t ask no questions, though. She took one look at you and that drowsy piglet suckling a baby bottle full of malta Goya and she just made up her mind right then and there to call you her own. To me you were a long-awaited playmate, a bedtime confidante whispering innocence beneath Disney-themed sheets, a reason to pull out my second Nintendo controller, to share my champagne cola, to brave the schoolyard, and the monstros behind every corner.