Murray State University MFA Program Director Carrie Jerrell speaks with writer Sybil Baker who read Tuesday evening at the Curris Center as part of the Murray State MFA Program's residency week.
Baker received a MakeWork grant to write about the unheard voices of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She says her book, Immigration Essays, started out as a collection of interviews with refugees and then branched into an exploration of gentrification and privilege.
“Their Chatanooga and my Chatanogga are very different,” Baker said. “So I started looking at gentrification and how different parts of our town are laid out. And I started putting in some of my personal experience. I lived in a gentrifying neighborhood, Martin Luther King, and how have I benefited from that and how has that hurt some people.”
Baker brings into the book some of her previous essays regarding traveling and refugees she met in Turkey. She also dives into her family's history of slave ownership to explore what kind of responsibility she has to address that legacy.
Immigration Essays is Baker’s first long-form work of nonfiction. She says it was a challenge to switch genres because she can critique her own fiction but her nonfiction skills had to be sharpened with outside review and many drafts.