By Shayla Srabian
The CSU Fresno Armenian Studies Program Spring Lecture Series featured Nancy Kricorian, author of Zabelle on March 2, 1999 at St. Paul Armenian Church, in Fresno. The talk was co-sponsored by the Church. Dr. Dickran Kouymjian, Director of the Armenian Studies Program, introduced Nancy Kricorian giving a brief biography of her accomplishments. She is a graduate of Dartmouth University with a degree (magna cum laude) in Comparative Literature. She then went on to Columbia University and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in the writing program. She has taught at Columbia and a number of prestigious East Coast universities.
Nancy Kricorian was raised in Watertown, Massachusettes and is now living in New York City with her husband John Schamus and their two daughters. Nancy Kricorian is a poet as well as an author. She began her writing career by publishing poetry in such journals as Ararat. She is the recipient of a number of literary prizes, most recently the prestigious Columbia University Advisory Board Award.
Dr. Kouymjian stated, “It’s always a treat to have a poet speak, because poets spend their time and lives reflecting on our situations. It’s usually through the words of a poet that we find out where we have been and where we are going. It is through the poet that we understand a little bit better what life ought to mean to us… In her own words Nancy turned to the longer form of fiction to express things that sometimes are hard to compress into poetry. She chose for her first novel, a story about a very strong woman-a woman named Zabelle.”
Kricorian’s inspiration for the novel was to simply write to attract a broader audience. Missing her grandmother after her death she felt compelled to write down the many memories she had of her. The two books that inspired her to write this novel are Sula by Toni Morrison, and My Name is Aram by William Saroyan.
Zabelle is the fictional story of a woman who survived the Armenian Genocide of 1915. She comes to America in an arranged marriage to an Armenian grocer named Toros. The novel is based on a combination of research and elements from the author’s own life and memories. Dr. Kouymjian described her writing as having an “elegance of language.”
She began the evening by reading two excerpts from the book. She read from the first chapter which described her grandmother’s experiences during the Armenian Genocide. The second excerpt dealt with Zabelle’s son Moses who faced the dilemma of a second-generation Armenian growing up in America. The often humorous anecdotes provoked laughter from the audience.
Kricorian closed the evening by reading “The Angel,” a poem she wrote after her grandmother passed away. It spoke about what her grandmother’s heaven is like. For example, Jesus would stop by for a cup of Armenian coffee and chat with her grandmother. The poem was very touching as well as familiar to those who are Armenian.
Fresno State students Heidi Dunbar, Andrea Antranikian and Tim Kuckenbaker agreed “her writing is interesting as well as informative.”
In closing, Nancy Kricorian displayed her energy and enthusiasm which were expressed through her writing. She identified with the Armenian youth of today. Those of us who have been close with our grandmothers have a deep understanding of the novel.