Dominicanreaders: Naima Coster in conversation w/ JP Infante
Time & Location
From the Editor: If you are bilingual like I am, you know that your brain can work on two parallel paths simultaneously. Both paths tell the same story but in a different way. It’s no coincidence that I was thinking about this experience while devouring Naima Coster’s debut novel, Halsey Street. The main character, Penelope Grand, flits between parallel worlds—her mother’s in the Dominican Republic and her father’s of jazz and record shops and bars where everyone knows your name in Bed-Stuy.
Penelope moves back to her once-familiar but now rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn to care for her ailing father, but her life is turned upside down when her estranged mother, Mirella, sends a postcard asking to reconnect. Naima expertly drew me into Penelope and Mirella’s worlds and inspired deep reflection. What happens when you move back home and don’t recognize your past? Is change—in a neighborhood, in your situation, in life—necessarily bad if it benefits everyone? How do you mend two halves when they’ve been fractured for so long?
The two cultures are never at odds—like two languages, they complement each other. I can’t think of a changing Bed-Stuy without also thinking about the lushness of the DR nor can I think of Penelope without thinking of Mirella. I was struck by the emotions I felt for these complicated and passionate women, both of whom I was rooting for despite realizing they are also both at fault. The contradictions, struggles, and connections we make in life are not easy but Halsey Street walks these parallel paths confidently.
Naima Coster is a native of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. She holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University, an MA in English and creative writing from Fordham University, and a BA in English and African American studies from Yale. The recipient of numerous awards, her stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guernica, Arts & Letters, Kweli, and the Rumpus. A former editor of CURA and a former mentor of Girls Write Now, Coster is also a proud alumna of Prep for Prep, the leadership development program in New York City aiding high-potential minority students in public, charter, and parochial schools. She currently teaches writing in North Carolina, where she lives with her family. Halsey Street is her first novel.