by Alissa Torres, author of American Widow
American Widow is the book I wrote because I couldn’t talk about my husband, Eddie Torres, dying at the World Trade Center. I was mute as the whole world talked about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
In the earliest post-9/11 days, I filled spiral bound notebooks with repetitive outpourings and memories. By January 2002, I wrote my first personal essay, one of many published on salon.com. I crafted them late into the night while my infant son slept, documenting my surreal existence so close to the center of something so big and so sad. By the summer of 2002, I started writing the script for American Widow, my graphic novel memoir. It had to be a graphic novel because my story was one of pictures, the collision of two sets — those of the towers burning and those of my husband smiling.
I never intended to speak in public about what happened to me. Yet when I published my book in September 2008, I started speaking. I’m living history, someone directly connected to events that transformed all our lives. I’m also an example of someone who survived something tragic and transformed it into art. And this is what I love to share.
In December 2008, I visited Barbers Hill High School and South Houston High School in Texas, my first opportunities speaking to students about my book. As I looked out at their faces, I realized how young they’d been seven years previous. The events of 9/11 were practically unknown to these students who now hungered to know what happened to me, what happened to all of us. And they were excited about the book’s graphic format. From these lectures, I learned that American Widow is a superb text for high school seniors and college students: it can teach students an important piece of history in a “cool” accessible format.
Also, because American Widow gives students an understanding of 9/11 from a victim’s perspective, I try to weave recent 9/11 related news items into my lectures, and I describe how they make me feel. In my lecture to the students of the New York University course, “The ‘Culture Wars’ in America: Past, Present, and Future,” I discussed the news that Guantanamo Bay prisoners would be tried in New York City. I told them what that meant to me as a victim and as a New York City resident. It made them aware that the news around them connects back to 9/11 and that we are still confronted with so much as a result of that day.
My lectures often end with a creative writing exercise that teaches students about comics and how they can be “literary.” I sometimes ask students to convert a short poem or a piece of a screenplay into a comic strip; it forces them to think about the economy of language, line breaks, and the power of imagery. Ultimately, it helps them appreciate great writing, no matter what its genre.
I’d be happy to visit your class by videoconference. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you’re interested in having me visit you in person, please contact the Hansen Literary Agency at email@example.com or by phone at 914-961-4131.