Elizabeth Alexander on Gifts Given to Her by Strangers

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Alexander released her grief memoir The Light of the World, which chronicles life with and without her late husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus. At NPR, Alexander talks about gifts people have given to her since the publication of the book. I think the stories of people sharing things with Alexander show just how powerfully grief can connect us to one another.
One thing that was just lovely — one of my favorite readings was sponsored by The California Endowment with a writing group called InsideOUT Writing. And these folks work with juveniles who are incarcerated.
And so I worked beforehand with some of those young people, and then they shared the stage with me. The theme was healing through writing. And so afterwards, a young man came up to me with a beautiful origami paper card. And inside, he said, "I have a message in a bottle. I hope my poems reach you." And inside, a bag filled with paper and confetti and tinsel, I reached inside and found a little teeny, tiny glass bottle that I'm holding right now. And it has a cork, and inside is a sparkly ribbon and a crystal heart. And then when you open up the cork, it's a drive that goes into the computer and shazam — up comes this gorgeous poetry manuscript that is definitely written through fire, written from the soul, written from the heart.
I carry it with me now because it's a beautiful, tiny object. I think it has talismanic powers and because this is someone's — this is a self in small form. This book that I wrote is myself and my family self and all I could put of Ficre, all I could encapsulate in this small book, and someone chose to do that for me.
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