by Zinta Aistars
Published in BeLight
Most so-called “overnight successes” are a matter of years or longer, such as the writing career of Morowa Yejidé ’92 (Moe-roe-wah Yay-gee-day). After a decade of short story publications, her novel Time of the Locust (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2014) quickly gained critical and popular acclaim. The novel was a 2012 finalist for the national PEN/Bellwether Prize In 2015 it was long listed for the PEN/Bingham award for debut fiction and was a 2015 NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work. She is currently a PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools author, visiting with classes who have been assigned Time of the Locust.
Yejidé, who is married and raising three sons, wrote the book in the spare time she didn’t have, taking advantage of occasional bouts of insomnia, hours between work in academia, and even time in the bathtub when the door was locked to all distraction for three-hour baths of plotting storyline time. Submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers more than one hundred times, she filed away the rejections and kept sending it off, undaunted.
That kind of persistence, that kind of devotion to her art, that kind of determination is part of the hard lessons learned during Yejidé’s years at Kalamazoo College, although not necessarily in the classroom.
“I’ll be honest,” Yejidé says. “My Kalamazoo College experience was of very high highs and low lows. My first two years were about figuring out who I was and how I fit in. Then I went on study abroad to Japan, and my mom died a month after I returned. My last years at K passed in a haze.”
Morowa Yejidé (left) with classmates during her K days.
Yejidé was an international area studies major with a minor in Asian affairs. It was the study abroad experience, she says, that attracted the Washington D.C.-native to K. She spent her junior year in Tokyo, living with a host family, not knowing that in her absence her mother had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
“She made everyone promise not to tell me,” Yejidé says. “She didn’t want me to rush back or have a cloud over me. I found out when I got home—and a month later she was gone. That really went into my writing, how people can say things without saying things. It was a part of the Japanese culture, too. I’ve been fascinated with how people communicate ever since.”
While Yejidé struggled through her final years at K, missing her mother, she found an understanding friend in her college roommate. Around the same time Yejidé lost her mother, her roommate lost hers as well, even more abruptly.
“Her mom was killed coming out of a pharmacy one day, struck during a police car chase,” she says. “We had these long existential discussions—is it better to know ahead or not?—and decided both scenarios were equally terrible. But it brought comfort to have someone there who understood. It all became a part of the light and the dark that K was for me. We keep in touch to this day.”