Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Farewell Summer: The Language of Good-bye

The Delaware Humanities Forum concluded its summer book series with Maribeth Fischer’s The Language of Good-bye at Presto on August 14. A performance by actors from City Theater Company was followed by a discussion with Rehoboth-based author.

The actors instantly transported us to an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom. Annie is a newly divorced teacher who has left her husband for another man. Kerry Kristine McElrone, who plays the sometimes flustered teacher, listens attentively and with expression to the students. Mary Catherine Kelley is moving in her portrayal of Sungae, a Korean artist who finally decides to learn English after living seventeen years in this country.

In her novel, Fischer explores the role of language and its relationship to culture, expression and thought. Annie begins to understand her students’ difficulties with foreign language and culture. Her student Ba (played by James Kassees) says “You think Vietnam a war, you forget it is my country.” We later discover Sungae has refused to learn English, because she is afraid to have words for the great losses in her life.

The author related how her own experience as an ESL teacher gave her insights into foreign culture and language. Fischer, who is currently completing another novel, cautioned the authors in the audience about making a work of fiction too autobiographical. A lively discussion about the use of “life material” in fiction ensued. I look forward to more exciting things The Delaware Humanities Forum has in store for us in the coming months.



  1. Rita,

    Thank you for this opportunity. It was a pleasure to work with you and to try to bring Maribeth's characters to life.



  2. Many thanks - it was a an instructive and challenging experience!

    Mary Catherine

  3. James, Mary Catherine,
    You should know your your portrayals of the students in Mary Beth Fisher's novel are receiving notice by the Federation of State Humanities Council's Review committee for the Schwartz Prize, awarded annually to one of the 56 ouncils nationwide. Thanks so much for offering your talent to enlarge the experience of what it means to be an immigrant in our diverse and promising nation.
    Marilyn W.