Chatham’s Master of Fine Arts creative writing program rings in lovely Lunar New Year with online event


“Celebrating Love in the Lunar New Year” took place on Feb. 12, 2021.

Charlotte Larson

The Chatham Master of Fine Arts program recently hosted a worldwide online event, “Celebrating Love in the Lunar New Year.” The multilingual reading event featured pieces from admired writers covering love in its many forms. From Vietnamese short stories to romantic Italian poems, each of the nine readers brought something unique and moving to the virtual table.

Host Arista Rawat Engineer opened the event with a warm smile. She welcomed everyone to the space and expressed her excitement for the orations ahead. Engineer then introduced her writer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, an Indian poet born in present-day Pakistan, and then delivered two beautiful readings of “Mujhse pehli si mohabbat…”–first in Urdu, followed by an English translation. It was clear to the audience members that “Do not ask me for that same love…” is a personal favorite of Engineer’s.

Professor of Humanities and Asian Studies Karen Kingsbury entered after Engineer. Kingsbury led with some notes on popular Chinese essayist Eileen Chang — a writer whose work Kingsbury has studied extensively throughout her career. Kingsbury shared Chang’s “Youth,” starting with the original Chinese passage delivered by partner Jie Zhang, Ph.D. The short story illustrated young love against the backdrop of business and academic life in contemporary China.

Up next, Victoria Trumbo showcased their personal passion for poetry with “The Angel” from Marosa di Giorgio’s collection “I Remember Nightfall.” Trumbo tapped into the Uruguayan poet’s deeply-rooted love in their reading. The poem was one meant especially for the most dedicated romantics in the Zoom room.

Another duo, Mary McIntyre and Hedy Gerace, teamed up for “Canción del pirata” by Spanish poet, José de Espronceda. McIntyre delivered the authored Spanish piece and Gerace took the English translation. Together they brought the audience out to sea, falling in love with the waves.

After her reading, Gerace pivoted her laptop, symbolically passing the mic to Lisa Thao Mi Le. Thao Mi Le’s joy spread through the virtual event as she sat up in her seat to deliver “Earth Cakes and Sky Cakes” by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. She read from a collection of Vienamese short stories titled, “The Dragon Prince.” Although Thao Mi Le read in English, she noted that she speaks fluent Vietnamese and is working on her abilities to read and write in the language she grew up with. Her reading captured the theme of limitless, worldly love in “Earth Cakes and Sky Cakes.”

Marc Nieson, an associate professor in the MFA program, closed out the evening with two more romance languages. He began with two Italian poems by Annamaria Girardi. “Avrei voluto…”  (I Would Have Liked) and “Sensazioni” (Sensations) are both from the poet’s chapbook, “Carte D’Identita.” Nieson followed in French with Haitian-Canadian poet Rodney Saint-Eloi’s “Un Secret” (A Secret). Finally, Nieson concluded with “Mistero della Fede” and “Moonstruck,” two of his own pieces. 

By the end of the event, each reading had added to and rounded out the theme of love. A collective, wistful sigh led into an open discussion between the readers on the nuances of language, learning and writing.


Writer Biographies 

Arista Rawat Engineer is a poet and fiction writer whose work explores questions that arise from the confluence of worlds—modernity and tradition, language and culture, myth and literature, etc. She is from Pune, India and is working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Chatham University.

Dr. Karen S. Kingsbury is chair of the Humanities Department and coordinator of the Asian Studies certificate program at Chatham University. Her publications, including two volumes of translation, focus on the life and work of Eileen Chang (1920-1995), often considered to be the most influential woman writer in 20th-century Chinese literature.

Dr. Jie Zhang is Associate Professor of Chinese, Co-Director of East Asian Studies and Acting Director of Film Studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Her research focuses on pre-modern Chinese literary texts in post-modern, multimedia, and oftentimes border-crossing contexts.

Drs. Kingsbury and Zhang are currently collaborating on a new volume of translations of Eileen Chang’s fiction and essays, forthcoming from New York Review Books.

Victoria Trumbo is a disabled writer with a soft spot for the Blue Ridge Mountains. They’re a current student in Chatham University’s Creative Writing MFA program, working on a dual-genre focus in fiction and poetry. In their spare time, Victoria enjoys reading about disability and queer theories and gazing at the moon. 

Mary McIntyre studied creative writing and Spanish at the State University of New York at Oswego. Her writing has been published in Great Lake Review and HASH Journal. In Mary’s free time, she enjoys playing video games with her best friend, Nate, snuggling with her dog, Penny, and learning new songs on the guitar.

Hedy Gerace will be reading the English translation. Hedy Gerace is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer. She is interested in themes of family, nature, and human impact on the environment. She graduated from Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA, with a BA in Creative Writing and Sociology.  She is now working toward her MFA at Chatham University. 

Lisa Thao Mi Le is a Vietnamese-American lesbian. She graduated with a BA in Fiction Creative Writing from Lycoming College. These days, Lisa utilizes her creative talents in, wait for it…Dungeons and Dragons as a Dungeon Master! For Tet, she celebrated by cooking, eating, giving out red envelopes, and insisting on no sweeping because you could sweep out the good luck.

Marc Nieson is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and NYU Film School. His background includes children’s theatre, cattle chores, and a season with a one-ring circus. His memoir, SCHOOLHOUSE: Lessons on Love & Landscape (Ice Cube Press, 2016). He’s won a Raymond Carver Short Story Award, Pushcart Prize nominations, and been noted in Best American Essays. He teaches at Chatham University, edits The Fourth River, and is at work on a new novel, HOUDINI’S HEIRS. More @