DMU to host author Stephanie Powell Watts May 3

Stephanie Powell Watts says she loved the classic novel The Great Gatsby when she read it the first time. However, in subsequent readings, she found something missing.

“I felt like I’m seeing other things. I’m seeing all of these black characters — never thought about them before,” she told NPR in an interview in April 2017. I’m seeing the women and the tiny, tiny roles that they have in the book, and I want them to speak. I want to hear what they have to say.”

That led Watts in 2017 to write her own novel, No One is Coming to Save Us, an arresting and powerful novel about an extended African American family and their colliding visions of the American dream. As part of the Des Moines Public Library’s AViD series (Authors Visiting in Des Moines), Watts will discuss the book and her other works on Thursday, May 3, at 7 p.m. at DMU in the Student Education Center Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Born in the foothills of North Carolina, with a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri and a bachelor of arts degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Watts now is an associate professor at Lehigh University. Her debut story collection, We Are Taking Only What We Need, won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in 2012. The collection was also named one of the best summer reads in 2013 by O: The Oprah Magazine. Her debut novel, No One Is Coming to Save Us, was named one of the best books of 2017 by many reviewers, including Entertainment Weekly, Redbook and The Chicago Review of Books. The novel follows the return of a successful native son to his home in North Carolina and his attempt to join the only family he ever wanted but never had. As Watts describes it, “Imagine The Great Gatsby set in rural North Carolina, nine decades later, with desperate black people.”

Watts’ May 3 talk on campus represents a partnership between Des Moines Public Library and DMU’s continuing medical education department. The event will be moderated by Richard Salas, Ph.D., the University’s chief diversity officer.

In her writing, Watts strives to share voices of people who are typically not heard, including women. “I want to talk about the ones that are like my mother and like my grandmothers, who are striving and trying to figure out the world with not a whole lot of resources in all kinds of ways, but who want better for themselves and for their children,” she told NPR. And so I’m really drawn to those characters that don’t get their say.”