A Gift to the Scripps English Department: Professor Myriam J. A. Chancy Shares a Few Wise Words Regarding Her Career

May 1, 2024
3 mins read

Machelle Kabir ’26
Staff Writer

Professor Chancy was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but her family moved back and forth between Haiti and French Canada in her early years, eventually settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is a Scripps English Professor and the Hartley Burr Alexander Chair in the Humanities. Her academic focus is on English literature and the African Diaspora, with a specialization in Caribbean women’s literature. Professor Chancy enjoys cooking, painting, and sculpting in her free time. 

The Scripps Voice (TSV): I understand you were born in Haiti but moved to Quebec City, Canada, in your youth. How do you feel this move shaped your literary works?

Professor Myriam Chancy (MC): The impact on my writing is that I identify strongly as Haitian, having been born there, and returning throughout early childhood. I also had the benefit of being born in a society fiercely proud of its history, of its successful revolution against colonization, making it the first Republic in the Western Hemisphere in which all races/ethnicities were considered equal.  This also means that I was not born in an environment in which I, or other Haitians, were considered minorities. This then shaped my outlook on the world and certainly influences how I write about topics related to “race” and to Haiti more generally.

TSV:  I understand that your book What Storm, What Thunder is about the 2010 Haitian earthquake. What prompted you to write about this topic specifically?

MC: I was deeply affected by the earthquake, having, at the time, a large part of my family and colleagues still living in Haiti. We lost a lot of people, landmarks, and institutions. I worked with local organizations and others in the Diaspora to bring different kinds of support to the local population and I was also called upon to give talks on best practices for foreigners and those interested in Haiti post-earthquake. The combination of these activities and returns to Haiti throughout this time period gave me particular insight into the situation and moved me to write the novel. I also think that, in some ways, it was a form of grief processing for me since the immediate work after the earthquake was on behalf of the living and there was little time to think about those who had died and to process their absences adequately. The novel gave me space to do that work, for myself and for others.

 TSV: What does your writing process look like?

 MC: That depends on the project. I usually am inspired by a thought, voice, or idea, and then my mind starts working on it. If the voice is clear enough, for a fiction project, I start writing it down and see where it leads. If I’m thinking of an academic project, I start making files of research and go from there. 

TSV: How, as a writer, do you enjoy giving and receiving critical feedback on your work?

MC: This also depends on the project. Generally speaking, I like to complete a full manuscript before I hand it over to others to read, whether trusted readers or an editor. There needs to be a certain amount of “finish” on the work before I will give it to anyone else to read. When I am ready to have it read, I usually provide the reader/editor with a series of questions I want them to think about as they read that will inform their response to make it a better work. My preference for critiquing work is the same; I prefer full manuscripts and a set of questions to work with as I read from the author.

TSV: Before coming to Scripps, you had previously taught at Smith. What do you find most interesting about academia at historically women’s colleges and 

MC: Although many people are surprised that women’s colleges still exist, as if there is no need for them, it’s clear that gender equity is still a hope rather than a “fait accompli” in the United States, and elsewhere. I’ve enjoyed teaching both at Smith and Scripps because the opportunity provides myself and young women scholars to participate in intellectual exchanges unfettered with the idea that we should censor ourselves. It allows for a certain form of freedom and insists on the right of all kinds of women to pursue higher education and to engage on issues relevant to gender, and sexual identity. I think classrooms of women scholars allow for more topics to be freely broached and I enjoy finding out what is on the minds of the next generation of women scholars.

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