Smiling woman on video call

Author Sofia Samatar speaks to Roanoke College students via Zoom on Oct. 22.

By Roanoke College News

Discussion with renowned author draws international audience

A recent Roanoke College speaker event was years in the making, and drew an international audience on Zoom.

Author Sofia Samatar was scheduled to come to campus this past spring, but the event — like all other spring campus events — was canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Melanie Almeder, John P. Fishwick Professor of English, said the College had been trying to get Samatar on campus for years, but due to Samatar’s busy schedule, it just hadn’t worked out.

Fortunately, Samatar was flexible, and was able to reschedule for the fall. Samatar spoke on Oct. 22 as part of the Visiting Writers Program. The Zoom program drew participants from all over the world, including attendees from Canada, India, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom, as well as more than 20 U.S. states.

While the event was first and foremost to connect students with an award-winning author, Almeder said the wide range of participants helps connect others to the College, too.

“I’m excited about it because it’s a way for people to find out about what we do at Roanoke College, for our name to get out there,” Almeder said.

Samatar is the author of the novels “A Stranger in Olondria” and “The Winged Histories”; “Tender,” a short story collection; and “Monster Portraits”, a collaboration with her brother, artist Del Samatar. Sofia Samatar’s work has received several honors including the Astounding Award (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. She teaches world literature and speculative fiction at James Madison University.

“I’m excited about it because it’s a way for people to find out about what we do at Roanoke College, for our name to get out there.”

Dr. Melanie Almeder, John P. Fishwick Professor of English

While students and faculty alike miss the in-person events and interactions that are hallmarks of a Roanoke experience, Almeder said they’ve been able to find some silver linings in having discussions via Zoom.

“I think it’s easier for [people] to get there,” Almeder said. “They can just turn on Zoom and listen in. They also, instead of having to stand up in front of everybody and ask a question, they can submit questions in the question-and-answer box.”

The event was sponsored by the Visiting Writers Program, Department of English and Communication Studies, and The Writing Center. 

The Visiting Writers Program has another event coming up, which could again draw a large, international audience. On Jan. 28, Jericho Brown, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, will do a reading on Zoom and answer questions. The event will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. There are more details on the event page, including a link to register for the discussion.