Morowa Yejidé on Autism and Motherhood: "There's a Language Between Parents"
By Sarah Fillman
There's a universe behind our eyes, says prize-winning short story writer Morowa Yejidé. Her debut novel, Time of the Locust, observes the life and family of Sephiri, a young autistic boy whose mother struggles to support and understand him in the wake of losing her husband to the unforgiving confines of a penitentiary.
According to Yejidé, the meatiest stories take shape in the aftermath of action.
"We might hear about the situation of a particular person or choice that that person made, but that's not the end of the story," says Yejidé. "The other part of the story is the fallout."
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With poignant intimacy, Time of the Locust explores alternate perceptions to examine the internal bruises spawned from past experience. The narrative continually shifts focus from character to character, casting light on each of their scars by exploring individual worlds of thought.
"What people don't say is often the larger story, and a lot of times it's actually more important than what they do say out of their mouths," says Yejidé.
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Curious at heart, Yejidé's first speculation about the private world within a person's mind occurred while she flicked through Time magazine.
"There was a beautiful photograph for an article on an autistic boy," she reflects. "It was a photograph of this boy looking out of a window. He had this wondrous sort of fantastical look on his face, and his eyes in particular. It seemed like there was a lot going on behind those eyes, and I thought, 'wow, there's a whole universe behind those eyes.'"
Herself the parent of three children, Yejidé understands the pull of maternal and paternal bonds.
"There's a language between parents," she says. "I think every mother, every father, every parent wants to connect with their child. They want to reach them, to help them navigate the world."
Sephiri's autism limits the understanding he can have of his mother, Brenda, who feels frustrated and alienated from his inherently different perception of the world. Her every effort at forging an emotional connection with her son appears to go unnoticed by him. Most heartbreaking, she's never seen him smile.
"I think that's a real phenomenon for moms, myself included. You do things to make your child happy, you want to see a smile on their face, you're willing to do whatever you have to do to give them happiness," says Yejidé.
Despite this struggle, the pair still experience a profound closeness articulated through eloquent descriptions. No matter the struggle, their love transcends.
"That love that the parent and the child have for each other is sort of the way they can communicate, even when words are not said," says Yejidé.
Brenda makes infinite sacrifices in the name of helping her son feel comfortable in his environment, and Yejidé uses this to promote understanding of autism, as it's "still very much a mystery."
"[People with autism] might not be able to communicate with us in the way that we're used to, but it's very clear that they have a sense of the world and what they would like to see in it," says Yejidé.
Looking out for Sephiri is no piece of cake, but Brenda falls back on food for comfort. Without her husband around she lets herself go, even ignoring serious health concerns as she takes care of everything else.
"That's a symptom of what a lot of women do... When there's a lot of things on their list," says Yejidé. "A lot of responsibilities, a lot of challenges, and oftentimes I think women put themselves last on that list, if at all. They're dead last in their mind."
Yejidé masterfully intertwines Sephiri's story with the individual worlds of everyone linked to him, including the father he's never met. Horus epitomizes hope through his unwavering determination to accept and transcend his circumstances, as he serves time in prison for murder.
"Horus represents that spirit that can't be imprisoned, the spirit that can transcend regardless," says Yejidé. The strength of his power comes from his acceptance, she claims.
Despite its heartbreak, Time of the Locust acknowledges hope to be the superior power, as it "drives everyone sooner or later."
"People, no matter what situation they might find themselves in, if they have the will, they are able to transcend that situation in whatever way they can manifest that," says Yejidé.
Her novel beautifully traces difficulties relating not only to Sephiri's family, but to anyone ready to believe that "we continue."
"These characters, people, generations, situations, continue on throughout the years. We transcend those things. We learn what we need to learn and we move on. There's no end," says Yejidé. "The promise of humanity, at the end of the day, is that we continue. As long as we're pushing forward, trying, we'll go on."
Yejidé, native to Washington, D.C., will be at Miami Dade College for the Miami Book Fair International on Sunday, November 23. At 5:30 p.m., she'll read excerpts from Time of the Locust in room 8303 located on the third floor of Building 8.
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