By Stefan Cozza
Widener University continually goes above and beyond for its students, particularly when it comes to providing students with an inside-look at the professional world side of what they are studying. Every year, The English and Creative Writing Department brings in a visiting writer to speak in classrooms, engage in tutorials with students, and put on a public performance to a larger audience. The honorary guest and speaker this semester was Aimee Nezhukumatathil, who is an accomplished author, poet, and literary editor, with four poetry collections, one chapbook, and a creative nonfiction collection to her name. Her most recent nonfiction collection, World of Wonders, was Barnes and Nobles’ 2020 book of the year, a New York Time’s Best-seller, and listed as a must read of 2020 by NPR. Embedded within her works is an innate connection to nature and the environment, which is one reason Aimee’s works speak so much to me. Her work is both deeply personal and incredibly relatable, always feeling so grounded. This semester, I had the pleasure of reading World of Wonders as well as the poetry collection, Oceanic. While two different genres, I was inspired and amazed at Nezhukumatathil’s attention to the context and background that surrounded every subject and idea covered. As a poet myself, I was exposed to entirely new poetic modes and forms that I have attempted to experiment with in my own poetry, including the “review” and “self-portrait” models. The former acts as a play on “yelp-style” poetry, and the other involves writing from the persona of a specific location or natural object. Aside from her own writing, Aimee is the poetry editor for Sierra, a magazine under the Sierra Club, and is a professor of English and Creative Writing in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi. Apart from hearing Aimee speak and read her wonderful work aloud, I had the chance to participate in a one-on-one tutorial. I have met with a couple visiting writers in the past, but none of them were poets. I was so grateful that Aimee took the time out of her busy schedule to read and comment on my works, and I was beyond surprised to hear that she enjoyed my poems! It is such a validating feeling to have a writer applaud your work, especially if you are having trouble seeing the value in it. Aimee is such an inspiring and uplifting writer, and that attitude translates to her real-life persona. Whereas some writers will overly critique student work, Aimee was constructive while maintaining kindness and positivity. I cannot speak enough on how connected I feel with her work and how highly I view her as not only a writer, but an instructor.