Former Saint Mary’s professor Dionne Irving Bremyer shares two works of creative fiction
Marirose Osborne | Friday, February 21, 2020
The Visiting Writers Series of Spring hosted by Saint Mary’s opened with a visit from writer and former Saint Mary’s English professor Dionne Irving Bremyer on Thursday in Stapleton Lounge.
The event began with an introduction from English professor Rebecca Lehmann.
“The power of [Bremyer’s] writing is to take the thing we thought we knew and turn it on its head,” Lehmann said in her preface to the reading.
Bremyer presented two pieces of creative nonfiction to the Saint Mary’s community. The first, a work in progress started while Bremyer was at Saint Mary’s, described Bremyer’s experiences on her trip to famed entertainer Josephine Baker’s home in France, the Château des Milandes.
“I feel as if I have known [Baker] always,” Bremyer said. “Of course, I wanted to be like Josephine … her performances were a testament to the way she loved herself.”
The piece also reflected Bremyer’s experiences as a woman of color and contrasted them with Baker’s life in France, she said.
“There were no other people of color working or staying at the inn,” Bremyer said. “I wondered: did [Baker] just fall in love with herself?”
Bremyer finished her reading with a description of a bird show put on by the Château for guests.
“It was equal parts beauty and violence,” she said.
The second piece, “Do You Like to Hurt” is one of Bremyer’s finished works, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
“Do You Like to Hurt” depicts Bremyer’s experience with a murder committed by one of her high school classmates in the same summer as the OJ Simpson trial.
She begins with a description of her life in Florida over the summer.
“In midday Florida summer, life in all ways was quieter,” she said. “There was a sort of preternatural calm.”
Then life speeds up as Bremyer extends her narrative into the circumstances of her classmate, parallel to the trial of OJ Simpson and the story of Nicole Simpson.
“My mother read the paper every morning,” she said. “She seemed on the lookout for violence or maybe she could sense it.”
The work shared the story of Bremyer’s classmate, a senior student who killed his mother shortly after graduation. At the time, Bremyer would watch the OJ Simpson trial on TV with her family.
“My mother insisted OJ was innocent,” Bremyer said. “She said they wanted to get him because he was a successful black man.”
Bremyer said she couldn’t understand her mother’s opinion.
“I can’t make this make any sense,” she said in her piece. “My mother had personal experience with battered women.”
Bremyer said her mother experienced domestic abuse, but worked to keep that part of her life from her children.
“My mother believed she was too clever to be killed,” she said. “But the seed of domestic violence begins in the home.”
Bremyer also explored her personal experience with domestic abuse.
“The seed begins in the home,” she said. “When I got home from my honeymoon, my first search was ‘marital rape.’ I didn’t click on any of the links. I didn’t want to see my story, at least a version of it, in the stories of other women.”
In the question and answer session after the reading, Breymer encouraged students to express themselves in their writing.
“In order to be personal and candid you just have to write it,” she said. “Put the reaction of others to the back of your mind and write what you need to write.”
Bremyer said she escaped her domestic abuse situation, but her experience greatly shaped her writing.
“I hope that we can change the culture this way,” Bremyer said. “The only way we can understand these things is through stories. They speak to us better than any picture or chart does.”