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December 18, 2014

Lauren Francis-Sharma on The Gift of Seeing What Others Do Not

Posted by Rebecca M

Author Lauren Francis-Sharma already had a long career as an attorney before she began writing 'TIL THE WELL RUNS DRY, a remarkable novel about a young woman's secret that is loosely based on Lauren's own grandmother's story. The child of Trinidadian immigrants, Lauren received her bachelor’s degree in English literature before attending law school. Though she did not take the path she once had planned, she now intends to pen as many novels as possible. Here, Lauren writes about her most memorable professor, and how her words became a secret gift that she still holds dear today.

To Lauren, Continue the Struggle. My freshman year literature professor, Dr. F. Elaine DeLancey, wrote those words in her gift to me, my first copy of THE BLUEST EYE. Dr. DeLancey, a thoughtful academic, entranced me from the first day of class with her passion for literature and her passion for life. She insisted that every image, every word, every moment I consumed, be done with care and intention. She had a voice like velvet with the most precise enunciation and could quote Shakespeare, Walker or Tupac with the drama and elegance of a cantatrice.  

It was nearing exams, and the scent of pine needles and the mint of candy canes hung in the dormitory’s chilled air. I should have been studying for finals, but instead I was traipsing behind Dr. DeLancey into North Philadelphia to hear a lecture by the poet, Sonia Sanchez. We boarded the SEPTA bus only seconds before a young mother and her little girl. The two sat across from us, the child’s legs swung nervously over a tossed candy wrapper. The mother stared out the window over my shoulder.

“Look at that child,” Dr. DeLancey whispered. I gave the child a quick once-over. She wore white stockings, a red coat and black patent-leather shoes, the standard in children’s holiday outfits. I looked again to Dr. DeLancey, hoping she would explain what I was supposed to be observing, but her mouth was covered with her hand, as if stunned, and the tears had begun to bubble-up behind her thick glasses. “Look at her,” Dr. DeLancey insisted. “Look at how beautiful she is. That smooth skin, those big dark eyes. And look at the care her mother has taken to place those barrettes just so in her hair. Each braid, so perfect. She is so perfect.” I looked again, harder this time, while Dr. DeLancey, like an announcer, offered a play-by-play, forcing me to take in this child’s features: the wonderful fleshy nose, the adorable gap between her baby teeth, the full lips, so much like my own. “Do you see her?”   

I didn’t go on to become an academic. Instead, I attended law school and worked for law firms and corporations. After law school graduation, I stopped calling Dr. DeLancey, ashamed I didn’t turn out to be the thought-leader she hoped I might. Yet, I never forgot that December day. It was the first time anyone had ever insisted that I study a face. It was the first time anyone had ever insisted that I see a face much of the world had chosen to ignore. I did not grow up watching a face like that little girl’s in cereal commercials or reflected on a doll baby. I never had to consider if a face like hers was beautiful or perfect or not. It was not until that December day when she --- along with my now-tattered copy of THE BLUEST EYE --- was gifted to me that I began to see. That I began to understand that the intentionality of seeing what others did not was the struggle. Soon thereafter, I started to take pleasure in the seeing, in the secret knowing I possessed. And I believe now that it was on that December day that Dr. DeLancey gave me the gift of writing. Continue the Struggle.