When Gregory Howard introduced Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi’s work, he compared it to the art piece, “House,” featuring three screens, with different sides of the same story, all subtly spreading moments in scene. “When I first experienced [‘House’], I was starstruck. How could I write this? And then I read ‘Fra Keeler.’”
Currently, “Fra Keeler” is Oloomi’s first major work. Her novella is about the narrator learning about the owner of a house he had recently bought, a story that she admits the plot is incredibly simple. Instead, Oloomi focuses writing complexity on feelings, the consciousness of her characters and the landscape.
“I found it interesting in that it’s a lot less plot driven of what I’ve read,” Ryan Moyer, a third-year physics student, said. Moyer was one of the many Honors students who came to the event for the “Cultural Odyssey” course, which is dedicated to exposing students to different art forms and ways of expression.
Perhaps her themes of blood and dust and her intense detail of landscape has something to do with her interesting childhood. Although born in the United States, she did not return to it until she was a teenager. Instead, her childhood was spent in places such as Iran, Spain, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. When she came back to her birth country, she had the experience of an immigrant. Although fluent in several languages, English did not come easily to her. Oloomi mentioned that she first began writing in hopes of “closing the gap” and tried to make sense of where she belonged.
“I personally find her life story interesting because her story is quite similar to mine,” Berkay Payal, a third-year electrical and computer engineering student, said. “I was born here, but did not come back to America until I was 21…it was validating.”
With a disciplined grasp of language and a refreshing, experimental style, Oloomi strives to captivate an audience, but also humor them at the same time. As she read “Fra Keeler,” she told of a scene of a distrustful narrator and a peculiar mailman and the audience was filled with laughter in all the right places. When someone asked about her humor, Oloomi said that she “loves to laugh” and further mentioned that “absurdity lends itself to humor having encountered absurdity from nowhere and everywhere [growing up],” suggesting that laughter is often the best medicine to otherwise depressing situations.
Oloomi also read her short story “The Vase” at the reading. Although she only has one work currently in print, she has many awards and honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship in Fiction, a MacDowell Fellowship and is an honoree for the National Book Foundation “5 Under 35.” She also was a recipient of the 2015 Whiting Writers Award in Fiction. She has had her shorter work published in various places, a couple of examples being “The Paris Review” and “Bomb Magazine.” Her second book “Call Me Zebra” is slated to come out in February 2018.
Oloomi’s readings of “The Vase” and “Fra Keeler” was the last New Writing Series for this semester. Another writing series will be held in the spring of 2017. The New Writing Series has been a University of Maine tradition since 1999.