NC State teachers use monsters in books and poems to explore and discuss social issues.
Cadwell Turnbull, assistant professor of creative writing, is the published author of “No Gods, No Monsters.” Her award-winning novel was acclaimed by The New York Times as “captivating… [a] tender and fierce book,” and he said that monsters, like vampires, werewolves, and other shapeshifters, helped bring this novel to life. Turnbull said he used some of the stories he heard from home to play into his writing.
“I grew up in the Virgin Islands, so I borrow a lot from the stories I heard growing up in the folk folklore of the area,” Turnbull said.
Before writing his novel, Turnbull also wrote a short story that was set in the same location as his book. He said they were almost playing against each other, using the example of one of the monsters he took from his other works.
“There is also a selkie-like creature called a soucouyant; they peel off their skin and suck blood,” Turnbull said. “In the stories at home, if you found their [shedded] skin, and you pour salt into it, you could kill them that way.
Turnbull explained how he wanted to structure his novel and what kind of topics he wanted to include.
“So the way I pitched it was ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘The Wire,'” Turnbull said. “So it’s social issues and monster folklore.”
Turnbull said some of the social issues he wanted to address when writing his novel included topics such as race and sexuality.
“The thing I wanted to do with the book was to take monsters that we all recognize and tie them into a cutaway study,” Turnbull said. “How does being marginalized in different ways… affect your monstrosity?” How does being black, brown, or queer affect your monster side or your relationship to the world as a monster?
He said he also uses his book as a tool to communicate other social issues of class and wealth.
“You know, I was really interested in this kind of more nuanced exploration of different types of monsters and these things that intersect with class,” Turnbull said.
He said that vampires are generally associated with being wealthier than werewolves.
“It’s kind of a spoiler because I don’t explicitly say it in the book, but vampires tend to be richer,” Turnbull said. “And so their experience of being a monster is very different from the werewolves in the book who come from vulnerable populations. Many of them were homeless, and it affects their relationship to their monster side and their relationship to the world.
Sumita Chakraborty, assistant professor of English at NC State, explained her thoughts on monsters in poems and said they can provide deeper meanings in literature.
“What’s interesting, I think, is that the monster in the poem is usually there to show something monstrous about humanity, or to indicate a way in which certain populations are unfairly labeled as monsters,” Chakraborty said. .
Chakraborty said one of the poems she studied illustrated how some people were seen as monsters.
“Jericho Brown’s poem ‘Homeland’ begins with the speaker, a black man, realizing that other people on the plane thought of him as a vampire,” Chakraborty said.
Chakraborty said poets and other writers often used monsters to communicate through metaphors.
“I feel like a lot of people can relate to the feeling that we’re living in a scary time with a lot of monsters, and that’s basically what these poets are trying to think about too,” Chakraborty said.
Chakraborty said she looks forward to delving into that kind of literary analysis in a spooky class she’ll be teaching next semester.
“One of my biggest interests in literature is how poets deal with death,” Chakraborty said. “So, I’m going to teach a class in the spring that I’ve already taught elsewhere, and it’s called Conversations with the Dead.”
Chakraborty said one of the topics of the course was how the literature of poets illustrates some of the methods people use to contact spirits.
“In the 20th century, many truly major poets not only imagined poems where they talked to ghosts or corpses, but they also used many material means, like ouija boards and table tapping to try to contact people. dead spirits,” Chakraborty said.
Chakraborty said this course would be an exciting addition to NC State.
“So the course is about how the occult is still really relevant and interesting to contemporary poets,” Chakraborty said. “For some reason, we just can’t shake the interest in the scary stuff.”
Turnbull said he is working on publishing his second book in the trilogy.
“I still have some work to do on this second book, and then I’ll work with a publisher,” Turnbull said. “It’s going through its pre-publication phase, but I’ve started work on a third book, and I’m excited.”
If you want to get a head start on playing “No Gods, No Monsters” before the second one comes out, you can Click here to buy Turnbull’s novel. Chakraborty’s work can be found on her website.