Award-winning author Amina Gautier virtually spoke to Ramapo College students and faculty on Thursday, Feb. 11 via WebEx. Professor Hugh Sheehy of the creative writing program hosted the reading and Q&A session.
Gautier has published three short story collections: “At-Risk,” “Now We Will Be Happy” and, most recently, “The Loss of All Lost Things.” In her career, Gautier has won prestigious literary awards such as the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the 2018 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story.
During the reading portion of the event, Gautier read two stories from her most recent collection. “Lost and Found” was the first story she read, which followed a boy that was abducted by an older man. He calls the man “this man” throughout the story because he doesn’t know his abductor’s name.
“Things that are lost can be found,” the boy says to the reader in the story. The character doesn’t think of himself as a stolen thing, but rather something lost. Gautier reads the voice of the boy in a poetic tone, flowing through each line with ease even with the sensitive subject at hand.
When Gautier finished reading “Lost and Found,” the audience applauded her and filled the chat with praise.
“I am blown away by [Lost and Found],” Humanities and Global Studies School Dean Susan Hangen writes in the WebEx chat. “My day will not be the same.”
Gautier seemed hesitant to read another story due to time constraints, but the viewers begged to hear more. That is when she started reading the title story from the collection, “The Loss of All Lost Things.”
Before she starts reading, Gautier explains that the second story is in the same universe as the first, as it presents the perspective of the parents days, weeks and months after their son has been abducted.
In the story, the mother blames pornography and perversion for her child’s abduction until she fabricates a more positive narrative: a desperate woman who couldn’t have a son of her own is taking care of him.
The mother in this story is an alcoholic, and there is a heart-breaking scene that Gautier emphasized in her reading where she is in a drunken state and screams at her younger son for touching her missing son’s toy. She tries placing it back exactly where it was left in his room before, untouched since he has been gone.
It took Gautier five to six years of active research to accurately depict the narrative of these stories from both perspectives. Because of the extensive research on child abduction cases, Gautier was very overwhelmed. She would have to dedicate two to three-week intervals to research because she would get too upset if she contributed too much of her time to it.
“I will probably never write about the boy again,” Gautier said.
Regarding the time frame it took her to write these short stories, student Natasha Driscoll asked a question of advice.
“How did you know to keep going and writing this story for years, and not scrap the idea?” Driscoll said.
Gautier had a more casual response to this question. While it is difficult for many writers to write stories in between other projects, Gautier swears by this technique.
“I’ll write a couple of drafts, and if I don’t like where it is going, I’ll save it for later,” she said. “Just because you think the story is finished doesn’t mean it is.”
While tales of child abduction have been told many times before, the varied perspectives and the gender of the child are elements that make Gautier’s story unique. This is something that English and literary studies major Rachael Ruszkowski brought to light during the Q&A.
“I just find it interesting considering when trafficking is brought up, as rare as it is to begin with, it's usually about girls,” Ruszkowski said after asking why Gautier chose for the child to be a boy.
In response, Gautier explained that while it is more common for girls to be abducted, it still happens to boys for the same reasons.
“Right away, if you know that it’s a girl that’s been abducted, you already assume a sexual aspect,” Gautier said. “But that is also a reality for young boys.”
Alongside her award list, her work has been published in reputable literary magazines such as “Kenyon Review,” “Crazyhorse” and “Iowa Review.” Gautier has also been featured in many anthologies, including “Best African American Fiction.”