February 12, 2019
NYU Washington, DC hosted a Salon Series conversation with Dr. Jennifer Natalya Fink, author of the Catherine Doctorow Prize-winning novel, Bhopal Dance.
On the night of December 2, in the midst of the Reaganomic era, an explosion at an American-owned factory in Bhopal, India, released untold amounts of toxic gas on uncounted numbers of people, creating a human and environmental disaster of insurmountable proportions. Known as the Bhopal disaster, it once dominated international headlines, and is now barely remembered.
Yet Bhopal remains emblematic of all the many quickly forgotten disasters that followed, and of the permanent state of globalized disaster in which people now dwell. What does it mean when corporations instead of states control not only the means to create environmental disasters, but also the tools to bury them? How does one revolt against these unelected entities? How do the most private desires get shaped by this stateless horror? Jennifer Natalya Fink’s Bhopal Dance is an epic and epochal tale of such a horror and its buried consequences.
NYU DC faculty member, Victoria Kiechel, served as interlocutor for the evening's discussion.
Dr. Jennifer Natalya Fink is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including the Catherine Doctorow Prize-winning Bhopal Dance. She is an associate professor of English at Georgetown University and founder of The Gorilla Press, a nonprofit promoting youth literacy through bookmaking. Fink's work has been widely lauded by luminaries such as Eileen Myles, Steve Almond, Rebecca Brown, and Michelle Tea. Over the past twenty years, she has collaborated with performance/installation artist Julie Laffin on a series of monumental works. Fink received her PhD in performance studies from NYU, as well as an MFA in performance from SAIC and a BA from Wesleyan University.
Victoria Kiechel has 20 years of professional experience in architecture, education, and sustainable design. A practicing architect, she works for the Cadmus Group, Inc., an environmental consultancy, and is a faculty member of the Global Environmental Politics Program, the School of International Service, American University (AU), in Washington, DC. In 2010, she was the inaugural recipient of AU’s Most Innovative Green Teacher of the Year award. At Cadmus, Vicky has worked for the US Green Building Council to develop and support the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating Systems; advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR commercial and industrial branch; leads consulting and review teams for buildings seeking LEED certification; and manages sustainability initiatives for clients as diverse as the Smithsonian Institution and state and local governments. Her architectural design work focuses on small-to-medium scale residential and institutional projects. For the Washington, DC Capitol Hill School Libraries Project, she designed the library for Maury Elementary School.
At the center of the novel is Cordelia, an owlish woman with a ménage of lovers, who leads a revolutionary Canadian political movement catalyzed by the Bhopal disaster, only to end up imprisoned with just a toilet to talk to. Who she hallucinates is her father. Who is her father. Who is the State. Who may be her mother. Or her twin/lover. Cordelia is a remarkable bird in her own right, and ‘owlishness’ is a feathery conceit deployed in both the book’s form and content, a way of exploring queer possibilities for altering the terms of one’s imprisonment. For setting corporatized corporeality alight. Ablaze. Pets and punk rock, dentists and dyslexia, Shakespeare and salsa: they all dance together here.
The NYU Washington, DC Salon Series: Conversations with Writers & Artists presents an opportunity for the NYU and Washington, DC community to meet and engage in dialogue with acclaimed writers and artists as they reflect on their craft. This program provides facilitated conversations that aim to illuminate the guests’ creative processes, discuss their current works, and explain the impact of their work on the world around us. The Salon Series is made possible by NYU Washington, DC through the collaboration of NYU schools, departments and centers, as well as through special relationships with selected external organizations.