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Alexandra Syrah

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    MFA in Creative Writing. Prose writer with a (not quite) one-hit wonder poem. No one laughs at my jokes as hard as I do.

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  1. Life, Liberty, and Kanafa: How an Immigrant's Daughter Escaped Abuse and Found Her Destiny PROLOGUE It took me about a year to realize that I had married a cult leader. There were some dead giveaways. He was almost three times my age. He was the pastor of a “free church” that wasn’t registered with the IRS. He kept tens of thousands of dollars worth of silver stashed in his bedroom closet. And he owned six firearms. But I knew all that before I married him. When I stopped attending his church, he spoke to his attorney and came back to me with a property settlement agreement. I opened my own bank account and started to take any part time work I could get and squirrel away money. Nine tense months, and several tense drafts, passed before we both signed two copies of the property settlement agreement in the presence of a notary. I put my copy in my office. He gave me a check for $10,000. Then I went on a two-week mission trip to Uganda. My husband seemed fine when I returned. My first day back, we went to Starbucks together, and I drank a Pumpkin Spice Latte while reading. I went back to work the next day. That afternoon, I came home from work to find my husband sitting in the large, green armchair in his study, reading the New Testament. The lights were off; he was able to read by the light coming in from the two windows on either side of the armchair. This was usual, for him. He did a live AM radio broadcast four days a week, and he spent the afternoons preparing for the next day’s show. He greeted me and continued reading. I went into my study and put down my bag. I noticed that the check was gone. Then I opened my folder and realized that the property settlement agreement was gone. At first, I said nothing. My heart pounded and I felt a sudden urge to use the toilet. I rifled through my folders, my planner, opened and closed my desk drawers and filing cabinets. The property settlement agreement, which had been there when I left that morning, was definitely gone. I walked into my husband’s study. “Ray,” I said. “What happened to the check that was on my desk? And my signed copy of the property settlement agreement?” Ray continued reading the New Testament. “Give them back to me,” I said. “I can’t give them back to you,” he said. “I need you to give them back to me.” “I can’t give them back to you,” he repeated. “I burned them.” “What?” I shrieked. I had known for some time that my husband was abusive—but I hadn’t expected this. Ray continued reading. “Give them back to me,” I repeated. I couldn’t believe that he had actually burned them. I felt so much blood rushing to my head that I began to feel dizzy. “I can’t,” he said again. “Why did you burn them?” I asked, tentatively calling his bluff. “Because we need to re-negotiate,” he said. “We need to start over.” “We already negotiated. Your attorney wrote the property settlement agreement. We had two copies notarized.” I was sweating. My mouth was dry. If I got any more upset, I might actually faint. “We need to start over,” he repeated. I stared at him, and inside my mind I saw and felt all the hope for my future collapsing. Nothing was left by rubble and darkness. By now I was very close to his face. He had laid the slim black leather testament down on his lap and was looking at me. “If you don’t give it back to me, I’m going to call the cops,” I said. “I can’t give it back,” he said calmly. “I’m calling the cops, and I’m going to sue you for everything you have,” I said, and darted into my study. I had reached the point of barely being able to hold a thought together. The corners of my vision seemed to be folding into darkness. I locked my door and called 9-1-1. I was hysterical when the operator answered. I was hyperventilating and crying. I honestly cannot remember what I told them. “Are you in a safe place?” the operator asked. “I’m in my study,” I said. Just then, the knob on my study door turned. Ray managed to force the door partway open. I slammed it back shut while I was on the line. “I’m in my study, and I locked the door, but he’s still trying to get in,” I said. “The police are on their way. Stay separate until the police arrive.” It didn’t take long for the cops to show up. I was still crying, my heart was still racing, and I still felt like I might faint at any moment. The doorbell rang. I unlocked my study door and peeked across the hall into Ray’s study. He remained in his large green chair, acting perfectly calm. I walked to the front door and opened it. It was dark out, now. Two tall, young, and well-built police officers stood on the porch. “May we come in?” one of them asked. “Please,” I said. I was crying by this point. “We’re going to talk to each of you separately,” the officer said.
  2. 1. Story Statement The protagonist must break a cycle of poverty and abuse, learn to stand on her own two feet, discover who she is, and live out her authentic self. 2. Antagonist The antagonistic force is poverty. At the beginning over her journey, the narrator is living below the federal poverty line. Financial poverty from youth was perpetuated into adulthood by a poverty of self-sufficiency. The narrator also suffered from a poverty of healthy, constructive relationships. This lack led to her living with abusive men for an entire decade and being emotionally and financially unable to leave. The narrator also suffered from spiritual poverty, or poverty of self-knowledge. Perhaps this could even be called a poverty of self—being unable to know one’s true self, and lacking the means (financial independence, healthy relationships, and community) to live as one’s true self. When the narrator tries to escape poverty, it fights back with a vengeance. She manages to get an emergency restraining order but is denied a two-week one—and is literally at the courthouse when her husband disconnects her cell phone service. She later discovers that he’s hidden his gun. When she manages to get out, her entire community turns against her: when she loses her marriage, she also loses her job, her church, and her friends. Just as she’s establishing financial independence after divorce, poverty lashes out with unemployment due to COVID-19. Suddenly, she finds herself relying on newly formed relationships in the church and from swing dancing. After the dark winter of 2020, she has established enough financial independence to spend seven months traveling the United States: seven months to discover who she really is, what she really wants, and where to settle down and build a life. Concrete details: Poverty looks like my dad’s house on Long Island, “heated” with sternos in the winter with a collapsing roof and a family of raccoons upstairs. Poverty looks like marrying a man older than my father and being forced to work for him for free. Poverty looks like trying to live in D.C. on $14,000/year in graduate school with a pothead boyfriend with an engineering degree who works part time teaching kids. 3. Breakout Title Digital Nomad: Finding Hope on the Road in a Global Pandemic Digital Nomad: How I Lost My Life in Order to Find It Life, Liberty, and Kanafa: How an Immigrant’s Daughter Beat Poverty and Seized Her Destiny Life, Liberty, and Kanafa: How an Immigrant’s Daughter Beat the Odds 4. Comps Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love – Similar to my story because it’s about traveling in order to find out who you are. Strong difference is that Gilbert was already successful when she began her journeys (and was even paid an advance by her publisher in order to do them). The narrator of Digital Nomad, however, is climbing up out of poverty and must self-fund her entire trip. She is also an immigrant’s daughter. This leads to both humor and more layers of complexity. The experiences of immigrant families and women surviving abuse are also culturally timely at the moment. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah – Similar in the sense of similar readership. Adichie’s narrator is a direct immigrant, where I am a daughter of an immigrant. Both works involve well educated narrators (with university backgrounds) who nonetheless face cultural difficulties and grapple with questions of family, race, and identity. Like Americanah, my book is written in a more literary style. 5. Primary Conflict Life, Liberty, and Kanafa by Alexandra Syrah An immigrant’s daughter escapes an abusive marriage and is living just above the poverty line when a pandemic leaves her unemployed and isolated. She must figure out how to take advantage of the situation and turn it from disaster into success. 6. Secondary Conflict Trigger: Not long after she begins her traveling, a man she thought would marry her suddenly breaks up with her. She is, once again, alone in the world. Reaction: The narrator feels that she has wasted too much time and cannot afford to make any more mistakes. Any more mistakes will mean she never has a career, never has a family, never has children. If she misses this moment, she will be trapped in poverty forever. She is further conflicted by her father’s diagnosis with cancer and his insistence that she live the life that he failed to have. 7. Setting This is a travel memoir. Primary Settings are: New Orleans, Charleston, and New York City. What makes these so interesting at the interactions that I have with people in each one. For example, at the restaurant Fleet Landing, I meet a Danish woman, recently widowed, who flew in from California, fell in love with the city, and spent all day walking from place to place until she found a job. She cries about how rudely she was treated “by her own people”—fellow Danes—and I give her a hug and bring her back to her hotel. Each of these cities/settings also: 1) has a lot of local color; 2) has religious and cultural layers that intersect with the narrator’s immigrant background and faith; 3) has very funny stories about interactions with the people who live there or are visiting which, in addition to being funny, say something deeper.
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