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Black History Month: Prof's book explores emotional, lifelong journey to find home, community

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The word “home” isn’t easy to define. It’s just one of those things that a person knows and can recognize when they’re there, and they feel a strong sense of turmoil when they’re not. 

University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Assistant Professor of Literature and Creative Writing Jennifer Maritza McCauley said since her undergraduate days, she had been working on collection of short stories exploring her own search for finding home in idealized people or places. The stories have culminated in a book, entitled, “When Trying to Return Home,” and is eleventh on a list of 41 books Today Show bloggers Lupita Aquino and Elena Nicolau call “Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2023.”

The book is published by Counterpoint Press, a distributor of Penguin Random  House.

She said that after she kept writing stories for so many years, she knew it would someday become a book.

“This is for all Black Americans and Afro Latinas who are grappling with finding home,” McCauley said. “One story—the title story, is somewhat autobiographical. I have changed some key facts, but every character in each story is looking for home, dealing with leaving home, coming back home or losing home.”

McCauley said this book had been inside her for many years. “I have lived in a lot of different places all around, and people ask where you’re from. I don’t know the answer,” she said. “Is this home? Is this where I’m from? How do I make this home? I’ve always been in transition, readapting to another location. In this book, the characters ask themselves what it means to be from a certain place.”

She said often, in each new location, she was the only Black, Puerto Rican woman around. “I didn’t know who my community was,” she said. “I didn’t have stability at home. My characters reflect that experience.”

Now, McCauley said, she feels that her home is not in places. “My home is in people,” she said. “Wherever my husband is, I’m home. Wherever my mom is, I’m home. Now, the answer has changed—I had been looking for home in places, but I have found it in myself. Home is wherever I feel that I’m home.”

“When Trying to Return Home” is now available on Amazon and in bookstores. There will be a reading of her book in the Neumann Library Hawk’s Overlook on March 23 at 5:30 p.m.