Anna Njau, a distance learning student at UW-Superior from Pennsylvania, chose to take her family’s tragedies and turn them into works of art for her Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURF).
Starting with a proposal last winter, Njau and her mentor, associate writing professor Julie Gard, worked throughout the summer to create her written project “Crossing Generations: Women’s Experience in Fiction.”
Njau’s novella, titled “Trees on the Hillside,” is composed of four short stories based on four different generations of women in her own family going through trauma and sexual assault, starting with her great-grandmother and ending with herself.
Njau was inspired to write about such a serious topic due to its prominence among the women in her family. Growing up in low-income household, Njau saw plenty of poverty and abuse directed towards women, including herself. She aspires to have her own children grow up surrounded by love and not have her mom covering up bruises with makeup.
Gard, her mentor, only had positive things to say about the project and working with Njau, regardless of the long distance. “Anna is a wonderful student to mentor. She is passionate about her development as a writer, and I enjoyed the chance to work with her on a significant project. Because of the distance, we ‘met’ once a week throughout the summer using FaceTime on our phones. We talked for an hour each week about the short story collections she was reading as craft models as well as a current draft of one of her stories. We also learned, as they wandered into camera view, that we had matching cats.” Gard enjoyed watching these stories develop from beginning to end, as each is successful in its own right, and are powerful as a collective piece.
Njau’s first story in the collection is titled “The Chestnut,” and it tells the story of the death of her great-grandmothers premature baby. Her collection continues with “The Oak,” a work of fiction that tells the experience of Njau’s grandmother as she dealt with the birth of her daughter who was conceived of rape and given to a relative. The third story is “The Cherry,” which details experiences of Njau’s mother at the hands of her abusive father. Last in the collection is “The Mulberry,” a piece Njau is trying to submit for publication, which tells Njau’s own story of surviving sexual assault and experiencing a natural disaster, and how she handled her PTSD from the two events.