SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT - SKIN HUNGER -Toronto International Festival of Authors 2020

The Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) had a series called Skin Hunger. Each day, a different writer shared original works on what we've felt and suffered during the pandemic. It was brilliant.

What is skin hunger? If you've never heard the term before, you have probably experienced it during this pandemic in some way. Skin Hunger is a Dutch phrase that encapsulates the feelings people experience during times of isolation when physical touch is now a source of fear and anxiety.

Here are a few of the authors and a brief synopsis of what they talked about.

I: Francesca Ekwuyasi

Oct 22, 2020 - Francesca Ekwuyasi, author of Butter Honey Pig Bread

Nigerian author Francesca Ekwuyasi read a short story called Peculiarity. In this story she talked about the Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc who burned himself to death in Saigon in June 1963. He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists. We have seen many people protest because of their own strong convictions this year.

II: Meg Wolitzer

Oct 23, 2020 - Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion

Meg Wolitzer read a piece called The Answer. It was about the coronavirus and the skin hunger we are experiencing in its aftermath. The piece was deeply personal and intimate.

Using the analogy of a tornado, she described the virus and our lives. Then she talked about the literal embrace and the bubbles we are living in. Her description of these bubbles was quite beautiful and comforting. Wolitzer talked about their fragility.

Asking the question, what are we missing? Wolitzer answers that she is missing her father who contracted the virus and died. She continues to talk about her mother who also contracted covid-19, but thankfully pulled through at the age of 90.

When we can't embrace each other, how do we embrace the aftermath of wreckage and what can we give each other? Wolitzer's reflections are achingly beautiful.

Her mother is also a writer and will be publishing a collection of short stories in a year's time. I look forward to reading that.

III. Shokoofeh Azar

Oct. 27, 2020 - Shokoofeh Azar, author of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree

Azar read a letter written to the coronavirus called:

Dear Coronavirus, I Have Seen Your Beautiful Side

The letter talked about the different sides of the coronavirus. It is different from other diseases and illnesses. She also talked about its ugly side and yes, even its beautiful side. Have you seen a beautiful side to coronavirus?

IV. Mieko Kawakami

Oct. 29, 2020 - Mikeo Kawakami, author of Breasts and Eggs

For That One Moment, written by Mikeo Kawakami, was read by interpreter, Jocelyn Allen.

The story begins by her telling us of a relative who was blind. There was a time when he could see and he has a memory of what light is. She wants to ask how different or similar is the light you remember from what we see? How much could the remembered light brighten the darkness around us? Then, she talked about her novel, Breasts and Eggs, The part she used from her own life was some of the emotional aspects. She shared about her grandmother, and the fear of her dying. She died a year ago at the age of 97.

What does it mean to remember the people that leave us behind, to remember the sensations that fade?

V. Ian Williams

Oct. 31, 2020 - Ian Williams, author of Reproduction and Word Problems

Ian Williams read an essay called House Music.

It is written in 4 parts and each part asks a question. The parts are linked by music and dance, including what he has been dancing to during the pandemic. It's quite powerful and characteristic of Williams' writing.

Two of the questions asked in the essay that I thought were profound were:

  1. Would people interact differently if they didn't know the race of the person under the mask?

  2. How do you teach someone to be free?

Williams talks about DJ's, explaining what they are doing with those headphones. Turns out - DJ's occupy both the present and the future.

And in the end, a white man is dancing, judging that (insert person here, black man, person of colour... it's not specified in the poem) is dancing to the wrong song. That person feels that the white man is dancing to their endangered life.

VI. Umar Bin Hassan

Nov. 01, 2020 - Umar Bin Hassan is a member of The Last Poets;

The Last Poets by Christine Otten

Finally, Umar Bin Hassan, through verse, talks about our own role in the coronavirus.

The coronavirus - where did it come from? Is it a punishment for humanity being selfish?

There is no mask that can protect us from the hatred and vengeance we put upon one another. We have a part of this; we must learn how to come to understand that we need to share our love and hope. Only then will we become one.

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