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A Virtual Visit From Dr. Sofia Samatar

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Written by Jasey Roberts

On Oct. 22, critically acclaimed writer Dr. Sofia Samatar spoke via Zoom to an audience of Roanoke College students and faculty. Dr. Samatar, a professor of English from James Madison University, is best known for her work in the realm of short fiction. Her 2017 collection “Tender” made NPR’s best books list of that year, writing that “Tender” “redefines the emotional power and literary heft that speculative fiction can convey.” Samatar is also known for her illustrated collection of “Monster Portraits,” which she wrote in collaboration with her brother Del Samatar.

Over a hundred different people from four different countries attended the webinar. Dr. Samatar read from one of her short stories, “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” as well as some of the profiles featured in “Monster Portraits.” During the Q&A portion of the event, Dr. Samatar expressed her beliefs regarding “the writing life” – “I read at least twice as much as I write, so I’m lucky if I get to write for thirty minutes a day. My advice for aspiring writers would be to read a lot, and to read everything – really just be an omnivorous reader.”

When asked about whether or not she writes her stories to anyone in particular, Dr. Samatar said, “I definitely think it’s mostly important to amuse yourself when first writing a story, but it is also equally as important to have your narrator – or whoever’s telling the story – have a reason for doing so.”

RC’s own Dr. Almeder, who acted as an MC for the event, commented that, “Samatar was such a generous and authentic speaker. We were lucky to have someone of her wild talent and international stature visit us, even virtually, at Roanoke College to read from her most recent work and to discuss her writing life. Her writing is fearless, surprising, and utterly fresh. She writes the fantasy form as a way to seek the truth about some of the most crucial experiences of the 21st century.”

During the event, when asked about that very interest in speculative fiction and the fantastic, Dr. Samatar smiled and said, “I’ve just always been interested in it. It’s weird – I get asked this question a lot, and I think that it’s kind of unfair. Instead of ‘why fantasy?’ I’d almost rather ask ‘why realism?’”