MFA Creative Writing graduate student, Tryphena Yeboah (‘21) has recently released her debut chapbook, “A Mouthful of Home”, a collection of poems that reflect on her “belonging” and “survival”. Fellow classmate Marrissa Childs (‘21) recently sat down with her friend and colleague to discuss her latest writing achievement. Their exchange highlights how students can inspire one another to reach their full potential as writers, thinkers, and researchers.
Marrissa Childs: Could you give us an author introduction?
Tryphena Yeboah: I’m Tryphena Yeboah, an international student from Ghana and currently studying Creative Writing at Chapman University. My debut collection of poetry, A Mouthful of Home, has been published as part of the New Generation African Poets Series edited by Chris Abani and Kwame Dawes. The project was started in 2014 and every year produces a 12-piece limited-edition box set that identifies the best poetry written by African writers who have not yet published their first full-length book of poetry. It’s an honor to have my work receive such recognition and for the opportunity to share this creative space with other talented African writers.
MC: In your own words, could you please introduce the concept of your poetry book and give us a little background and how the story came about?
TY: It wasn’t until I put together the poems I had been writing over a long period did I realize how very connected the
themes I write about are, how much most of what I write are about the same subject, only expressed differently. And for that, I’m grateful for the multiplicity language affords me, this open space where I can be and interrogate and confess, without the kind of vigilance I’d rather have if I were not writing. Losing my father and this thick grief that blankets itself over everything, my young understanding of love, and how silly I was to have thought the way I did, the quiet tensions that exist within my family. I can’t but write these down.
MC: What is it that you want to say with “A Mouthful of Home”?
TY: I’m unsure if what I want with this chapbook is to make a statement as it is to simply exist in this form and offer a glimpse of it to the world. It’s very easy to say I want my writing to move someone, to invade and cause a stir in people’s way of being, but of course, that isn’t something I have much control over. It may or may not happen and yet, it’s a terrible thing to admit. What I will say though is, it takes courage for one to be able to reveal themselves in their work and I want to celebrate having done that or at least coming close to arriving at some kind of truth, of relief.
MC: There are readers’ responses and writer’s intention, could you give us an idea of what you think the reader’s response would be in comparison to your intentions?
YT: I am as clueless about a reader’s response as they are about my intention. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it is that their interpretation of my work will be just that- theirs. And thank God I can make peace with knowing that the work I create is able to take a momentum of its own, take a life of its own apart from me. How liberating. Here I am thinking if I’m able to record this detail, if I’ll be so attentive, so present to compress this memory into a few lines of a poem, I’ll get to keep it there forever. But I lie. My nonfiction professor, Samantha Dunn said to me (when I was deeply insecure and struggling with accepting this accomplishment), it is crucial to stop seeing the work as something I alone do, but more like something that comes through me and lends itself to the world. A service of a kind. I like how the light of a burden that feels, void of the pressures of expectations.
MC: How important is it for you to publish with an African publisher?
TY: Very! What makes this experience so remarkable is knowing the team behind the project and understanding firsthand their commitment to growing the African literary scene. By publishing these works, necessary conversations are being had about the demand and the responsibility to build, discover, sustain, and archive Africans and their writing. To quote Chris Abani, “Out of Africa is an intellectual power we have watched stolen and abused and we are collectively battling to retain and celebrate it. We won’t apologize for that.”
MC: Is there any writer’s advice that you give your fellow writers?
TY: My wonderful friend and professor, Richard Bausch, at the start of nearly every conversation asks me simply, “Are you writing?” I can see how such a question like this can easily become an anthem, a reminder that can be lost in the exchange of greetings. But every time he’s asked me, I’ve been fascinated by not only the genuineness of his inquiry but also, the relief and thrill in knowing that I am actually spending my days writing. I work hard, and I don’t mind that I do because I love the very thing I’m doing. Or to say simply, like James Baldwin has said, “If you are going to be a writer, there’s nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer, nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.” And it is!
MC: What do you think your next project will be?
TY: I’m working on a collection of short stories for my MFA thesis. These are pieces I’ve shared with colleagues and
workshopped in classes I’ve taken from last year. I’m excited about how it’s coming together and cannot wait to see the final work!
MC: I am proud to be a part of your writing journey. I have had the privilege of being immersed in your words and narratives. This is just another way that you are encouraging your colleagues and fellow writing students (like me) to take the leap. Thank you and congratulations!
Please be sure to check out Tryphena Yeboah’s “A Mouthful of Home”.