Poet and essayist Aimee Nezhukumatathil inspires FHU students to discover the wonders of the world


Nezhukumatathil visits a creative writing class, discusses the writing process, and encourages students to write about what they love.

HENDERSON, Tenn., October 6, 2022 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — Essayist and poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil smiles like an axolotl in the face of challenge, finds endless inspiration among the world’s flora and fauna, and encourages everyone to find empathy for others through prose, poetry and literature. At the end of September, she visited Freed–Hardeman Universitybecoming the first mainstream author in recent years to lecture on campus.

Nezhukumatathil’s works have won him national recognition and praise from the literary community, including The New York Times and Barnes & Noble. She wrote “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments” (2020). It is in this book that she talks about the axolotl, also called the Mexican walking fish, a pink salamander with a perpetual smile. His additional published works include “Oceanic” (2018); “Lucky Fish” (2011); “At the Drive-In Volcano” (2007) and “miracle fruit” (2003).

She is also a teacher of English and creative writing at University of Mississippi MFA program. Nezhukumatathil’s visit to Freed–Hardeman University The campus was made possible by the Engaged Learning Initiative, or ELI, and FHU’s Department of Communication and Literature. Nezhukumatathil started his afternoon at Dr. by Margaret Payne creative writing course. A dinner party was hosted for her at Hardeman House and she ended the evening at Ayers Auditorium with 200 students from various English classes. Many of them were students of Neil Segars, Hannah Graves and Loren Warf, from the English faculty of the FHU. Classes read “World of Wonders” or “Oceanic”.

“We were so excited to have Aimee Nezhukumatathil on campus,” said Payne, who is the chair of FHU’s communications and literature department. “The students were engaged and we couldn’t have asked for a better turnout.”

While in Payne’s class, Nezhukumatathil described herself as a lifelong learner.
“I’m a full professor, but I still feel like a student,” she said. “And I never want to get to a point where I think I’m the master of poetry.”

The class, filled with sophomores, juniors and seniors, some of whom have an interest in teaching and writing, listened to Nezhukumatathil’s story of how she discovered modern poetry.

“It was very encouraging to hear her say that she discovered poetry later, when she was a student,” said Shayli Studer, a major in English education in Payne’s class. Nezhukumatathil talked about the use of personality, or a mask, which is a method writers use to write from a point of view that is not their own. She asked students to discuss fears and phobias, and during a free eight-minute writing session, Nezhukumatathil challenged them to use personality to write about a phobia.

Studer chose to write about ancraophobia, or the fear of wind.
“I enjoyed (the session) and it’s something I want to teach my future students, to think for themselves and promote empathy for others,” Studer said.

Students wrote about other fears including fear of flowers (anthropophobia), fear of the moon (selenophobia) and fear of cats (ailurophobia), most chose to read their short poems aloud.

“You built something out of 26 letters and eight minutes,” Nezhukumatathil said. “You have made us all feel empathy. I encourage you to find other phobias to write about that evoke empathy for another person’s life.”

The students asked Nezhukumatathil about his study of nature and his method of writing.

“When I have time, I take the time to grind a poem, but my drafts are a real mess,” Nezhukumatathil joked. “After about 100 drafts, I start to take inventory if I’m writing about childhood, motherhood, or the outdoors. Out of 175 poems in total, not all of them are solid, so I dig deeper. But I find that I write twice in order to get the ‘good stuff’.”

Nezhukumatathil sparked laughter from the students as he read his poems “Are All the Break Ups in Your Poems Real?” “Beaver Creek High’s mascot breaks her silence” and several passages from “World of Wonders” where she made bird calls and asked students to imitate fireflies by turning on their cellphone flashlights while that the lights in the room were dimmed.

“It looks so cool; FHU you look so good,” Nezhukumatathil said, pausing to capture the moment on his cellphone.

FHU Freshman Ben Cooper took a selfie with Nezhukumatathil after signing a copy of “World of Wonders” for him.
“It was an amazing book,” he said. “I usually struggle to connect with reading, but I loved the nature stories. Personally, I loved the stories about monarch butterflies and fireflies.”

When Nezhukumatathil talks about fireflies, it reminds him of road trips with his family. She encouraged writers faced with a blank screen or page to start with what they love and start writing about it.

“Be curious, the world is full of wonders, be amazed,” Nezhukumatathil said. “Be a student of something for the rest of your life.”

Media Contact

Dawn Bramblett, Freed–Hardeman University731-608-7650, [email protected]

THE SOURCE Freed–Hardeman University

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