Author Ayana Mathis Captivates Audience at Cheyney University

Angelitta Anderson

November 8, 2013

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Ayana Mathis, author of “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie," an Oprah Book Club choice, discusses her novel with the audience at Cheyney University November 7

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The Keystone Honors Academy (KHA) hosted a Book Club Discussion with author Ayana Mathis, of “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" (2012), on November 7, 2013 in Cheyney University's Marian Anderson Auditorium. The idea for the discussion was first introduced by a Cheyney University student and honors college leaders who collaborated to develop the concept.

“We hoped to plan an activity that would be welcoming to the extended campus and external community and would bring us together with some common ground and knowledge to inspire intellectual discussion and debate," said KHA Dean, Dr. Tara Kent. "We sought to create connections across different groups, form social networks, and share ideas about literature and history.”

"The Twelve Tribes of Hattie,"  Mathis' widely praised first novel about one family’s struggles, is set against the backdrop of the “Great Migration.” A New York Times bestseller, the book was also the second selection for Oprah Winfrey’s newly-revived Book Club. Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she also served as a guest faculty member, and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship, a literary award.

The acclaimed author opened the evening by reading an excerpt from the first chapter of her book. Mathis brought her novel’s characters to life with her lyrical and passionate reading, followed by an oration of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “Kitchenette Building.”  Brooks, Mathis said, was one of her favorite poets.

A Q & A session wrapped up the evening with questions from a dozen KHA students representing all majors.  When asked for tips for aspiring authors, Mathis responded, “Write for 15 minutes a day. That is an obtainable goal rather than trying to force four or more hours each day. You can never tell where these 15 minutes will take you.”

How did Mathis wind up on Oprah’s Book Club list?  “My publisher submitted my novel to O magazine," she explained matter-of-factly.  "It just so happened that Oprah was looking for a new book and she chose mine.” 

According to Dean Kent, “The students gained a great deal from this book, and in our discussions we talked about love and loss, family, cruelty, religion and racism. It was an honor to host Ayana Mathis, the author who gave us so much to think and talk about, on the Cheyney University campus.”

The evening ended with Mathis posing for pictures with students, faculty, staff and guests and personally signing copies of her book. Two students, Jonathan Cooper and Annemarie Gallagher, won new Aquafina Kindles in a drawing.

Prior to the main event, Mathis appeared in Carnegie Hall at a reception in her honor.  All proceeds from the evening’s events will be used to support KHA students at Cheyney.