This is how refugees are reshaping America

Of all the refugees who settled in Utica, how did you decide to focus on Sadia, Ali and Mersiha, and how was it to follow them for eight years?

These three newcomers were going through so many changes: Sadia, a bright Somali Bantu girl, clashed with her mother; Ali, an Iraqi interpreter, was torn between his life here and his family in Iraq; and Mersiha, a bubbly Bosnian, dreamed of opening a café. I kept wanting to see the sequel.

It wasn’t always easy to connect, especially with Sadia. Like many teenagers, she would lose her cell phone. And for a while I lost contact with Ali when he returned to Iraq. But following these three people was a joy.

What have you read recently that you would recommend, and why?

I’ve just finished Valentino and Sagittarius, two short stories by Natalia Ginzburg. She was a master at capturing the dynamics of family life – and her observations are sharp, fresh and often humorous.

What’s next on your reading list?

I love Alice Munro stories. There’s something journalistic about his attention to detail and his ability to conjure up a place. I can’t wait to find his first works: lives of girls and women and Something I wanted to tell you.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I started as a poet and read poetry and fiction throughout my twenties. Since becoming a journalist, I have read mostly newspaper and non-fiction articles. Now I’m hungry to read fiction!

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in a book recently?

I read The The lying life of adults by Elena Ferrante, and admired the way she sometimes steps back and comments on her characters. Journalists are trained to To display, rather than explain. But after reading Ferrante’s novel, I felt freer – in the right context – to give the reader some guidance.

What are you teaching this fall?

I teach Write about communities; this is my favorite class. Students choose an intimate community off-campus – it might be a group of dominoes players or regulars at a butcher shop – then they write a feature article.

You are hosting a dinner party. Which three scholars and/or writers would you invite, and why?

Michael Winerip and NR Kleinfield, seasoned journalists who wrote about ordinary people with empathy and a keen eye. I would also invite Jen Percy, another writer, because of the lyrical quality of her stories. I would love to hear what they have to say about the writing process.

About Catherine Wilson

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