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The Mass Media

A Night of Discovery

Every artist deserves 15 minutes of fame. Mary Medlin, Emma Chastain, Jan Grieco, and UMB’s own Matiop Wal each literally got 15 minutes to read their own short stories at PEN New England’s 27th Annual Discovery Evening. Medlin, Chastain, Grieco, and Wal were the discoveries of the night and have received recognition for their writings. Not only did these four gifted and talented writers receive recognition for their writings their names were compared to accomplished authors such as Monroe, Benson, Achebe, and Hemingway.

UMass Boston Professor Melnyczuk published Wal’s short story, “Animals in Wartime” as part of a series, with the small press -Arrowsmith – that he and his wife started last year. UMB student, Erica Mena, is senior editor of Arrowsmith. Wal, Sudanese American, was a student in Melnyczuk’s advanced fiction class at UMB. Melnyczuk is a former board member of PEN. He was invited to introduce someone for Annual Discovery Evening, an event wherein Melnyczuk was introduced (GET NAME) some 30 years earlier. Melnyczuk chose to introduce Wal. It was a nice feeling for Professor Melnyczuk to be part of the event.

The first honoree, Meldin, captivated the audience with her reading of her fictional short story “Enemies of Still”. She spoke with great insight about male and female relationships. Her story opened with a couple, Martin and Nadeline, dealing with the loss of their child. Medlin painted a wonderful image of how the couple met at an art exhibit. I found it ironic that Nadeline was assisting a woman who went into labor at the museum. Medlin provided us with details about the courtship of Nadeline and Martin and their views about family values and priorities. Meldin skillfully incorporated and linked a few stories within her short story in order to fill the shell she created. The filling was just as tasty as the shell. The story was captivating, humorous and contained serious undertones. I am not giving her story the true justice it deserves but it was one of my favorites of the evening and I truly wished Meldin could have read it in its entirety. I will look for her story in print so that I can quench my hunger.

Wal mesmerized the audience with his reading “Animals in Wartime”. Wal successfully connects the complex relationships of nature and man. He shows how humans, animals, and the environment are connected on this planet. The experiences and treatment of one group has a chain reaction and affects the other groups inhabiting the environment. Wal achieves this effect through his main character Kuol, who has been displaced and forced into an orphanage because of the ongoing war in Sudan. We learn that Kuol and his brothers are alone and have lost everything including their home and family. Kuol meets a man who claims to be his uncle. After a harsh interrogation and contemplation on the advantages of having an adult’s protection, Kuol accepts the stranger as his uncle. Together, they travel to another part of the refugee camp that is a little more comfortable. I enjoyed the way Wal used the art of storytelling within his own story. Kuol tells a vivid and captivating tale of how rats forced the protagonist and his brothers as well as other young children out of their homes. Wal’s use of language, description of scenery, and characters helped to drive home the moral that everything and everyone including the animals are affected during wartime. I do not believe that I have considered the effects of war on animals and how they become warlike and form armies in order to survive. Wal’s story left me with some thoughts to ponder, and any story that can do that is one that I can truly enjoy. If you were not able to make it to the reading please inquire about obtaining a copy of “Animals in Wartime”, you will thoroughly enjoy it.

Wal was a little nervous to be reading before a crowd in the packed Semel Theatre at Emerson College on March 2nd. It was unclear whether Wal’s anticipation subsided or increased when he realized that he was surrounded by friends, students, and faculty from UMB. Of course, they were there to offer support as well as to acknowledge Wal’s achievement. Wal graciously thanked his “fan club” before he read his short story. I read “Animals in Wartime” prior to attending the event, and as Wal read the words, the story became alive. I clung to every word of each reader as they breathed life into their literary works. I think PEN New England could not have honored the discoveries in a greater way than giving them the opportunity to read before a crowd of enthusiastic readers and listeners.

Although all the discoveries rightfully deserved to be honored this night, Meldin and Wal’s story stood out to me. Here is why I think their stories stood out; it was said that Meldin’s knowledge about the pain of longing had found its way into her work and this quality helped to make her story stunning and fascinating. It was said that Wal was tutored by war and learned a lot and this is reflected in his writing. Although “Animals in Wartime” is fiction, Wal told me there is some truth to his story. Although the reality of war is often tragic, I believe that Wal created a beautiful work of art out of that tragedy.