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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Anthropologist receives fiction award

Ayala Emmett

Ayala Emmett, associate professor of anthropology at the University, has won this year's poetry and fiction competition from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology for her short story about a young Israeli woman departing for America.

The piece, titled "Going to America Under the Jacaranda Tree," will be published in Anthropology and Humanism.

Using a writing approach called ethnographic fiction, Emmett blends the fact-gathering research of an anthropologist with the storytelling skills of a fiction writer.

"Even fiction has to be culturally true or it doesn't make sense," said Emmett. "Writing in the style of ethnographic fiction is one way of conveying cultural knowledge. In this story, I wanted to give a sense of a number of themes that anthropologists think about."

The story describes a young woman's life and relationships with her town and her family. Before leaving for college in the United States in 1970, she seeks her grandmother's blessing for the trip. And the question is: Will her grandmother give it to her?

"My attention to detail of that period in Israel comes from my training as an anthropologist," Emmett said. "I always listen with all of my senses."

Emmett also is the author of a book on the influence of women in the Middle East peace process.

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