Seema Reza is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, DC, where she coordinates and facilitates a unique hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a military population struggling with emotional and physical injuries. Her work has appeared online and in print in The Beltway Quarterly, HerKind, Duende, Pithead Chapel and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency among others. An alumnus of VONA and Goddard College, she was awarded the 2015 Col John Gioia Patriot Award by USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore for her work with service members.
When the World Breaks Open
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
When the World Breaks Open is a non-linear narrative memoir that traces Seema Reza’s journey from being a suburban mom to using her own lessons to build a unique writing and art program in military hospitals. Reza exposes her triumphs and fears and regret through the dissolution of a dysfunctional marriage, and investigates her own experiences and societal attitudes towards loss, love, motherhood and community, undermining the idea that strength requires silence. There is a revelatory quality to the writing, as Reza exposes her own weaknesses and regrets and investigates their sources. As she wonders, she displays a trust in the intelligence of the reader, providing space to explore these themes alongside her, inviting both identification and immersion.
“Reading When the World Breaks Open at first pleases; here’s a poet who actually took her time and gave the word integrity the serious treatment it deserves. . . . Read it, pass it on, share it with your friends, savor it, smell it, throw it, embrace it, pick it up and read a little and lay it down within reach to pick up another time–it’s one of those books, there when we need it to shed a little light on life’s ups and downs.”—Jimmy Santiago Baca
“You would be hard pressed to find a debut book with as much guts, honesty, and wisdom as Seema Reza’s When the World Breaks Open. Written in sparse, atomic epiphanies, she focuses the lens inward, and the result is a raw, emotional ethnography of the human heart. . . . As with Jong, Cisneros, Rich, I predict that Reza is a name we will hear and follow for decades to come.”—Tim Z. Hernandez
“Seema Reza delivers. When the World Breaks Open is a searing song of motherhood, love and redemption through art. Her sons, the death of her marriage, the birth of her courageous artist self is a testimony in which she finds the skin, questions faith, reverberates a familial tongue and rises, yes–rises in a stumbling glory.”—Mahogany L. Browne
“Though Reza and her husband met in Bangladesh, the family homeland for each, most of these chapters, poems, and fragments are rooted in their American experience. This is where they raised two sons, suffered another difficult pregnancy (the most sustained and wrenching narrative in the memoir), and saw their marriage rupture in anger and bouts of craziness. Her attempts to ‘turn jagged truth into art’ also reflect her experiences with hospitalized veterans as they deal with their trauma and she teaches them writing and art as therapeutic tools. ‘Writing is what I believe in most of all, writing has saved my life,’ she tells them. ‘Writing saves my life on a regular basis.’ At the start of the book, the author explains that she and her husband lived together for 16 months after deciding to separate, a decision that seems to have been more hers than his. They eventually shared custody of their young sons, and she had to balance the time she spent with them (and her loneliness when they were apart) with her vocation of helping the soldiers and her rediscovery of herself as a woman who is sexual as well as maternal. Her relationships dont seem to last long, for, as she writes, ‘When I saw myself through his eyes, I saw someone I liked. Myself, in his eyes. Thats who I kept falling in love with. Myself, in all of their eyes. And when I dont like what I see, I find another pair of eyes.’ The author writes with self-lacerating honesty, but one senses that her former husband and her sons would have different stories to tell, different perspectives, and different memories. She admits, ‘by the time the story travels from my life through my memory into your hands, dear reader, it will not quite be non-fiction’. . . .Blurring boundaries, Reza exercises literary license and often writes with poetic power.”—Kirkus Reviews