When the pandemic lockdown began in spring 2020, Elena Vedovello ’23 decided to write. Two years later, she has published the book Yellow Flowers, a coming-of-age story about a girl displaced by the Russian occupation of the Republic of Georgia.
Vedovello, a double major in English and environmental analysis, was an avid reader growing up in Italy. But her passion for literature as an academic pursuit was only stoked when she moved to Armenia for high school to attend the United World College of Dilijan.
“English literature was my favorite subject. I absolutely adored it,” Vedovello says. “I just wanted to keep doing that work of really delving into a text. The conversations that you’re able to have thanks to literature are so amazing.”
It was also at this boarding school that Vedovello befriended Anano, the inspiration for Yellow Flowers. When Anano was eight years old, the Russian army invaded her hometown in Georgia. Since 2008, she and her family have lived in an Internally Displaced Person settlement.
Vedovello believed that Anano’s story needed to be told, and Anano welcomed the idea of the book. “Some details are changed, and the characters are changed and fictionalized to help the plot,” Vedovello says, but “the story is nonetheless real.”
Just as Vedovello was touched by Anano’s story, she wanted to give the experiences of her friend and her fellow refugees a broader platform. “I would like for it to do good things for the people that the story talks about,” Vedovello says. “I would want to give some justice and visibility to that community and that story.”
The RAISE Program (Remote Alternative Independent Summer Experience, the pandemic version of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program) provided a stipend that made the project possible. During the summer of 2020, Vedovello wrote the entire first draft by hand.
The following spring, Vedovello worked with a community of authors to edit her novel. Two months later she worked with an editor and finally in February 2022 submitted her final copy to be published.
She reflects that being at Pomona gave her the opportunity to consider the occupation of land not only in Georgia but all over the Americas. “It made me understand how invisible occupation can become,” Vedovello says. The opportunities to have discussions and engage intellectually with people at Pomona have also been instrumental for her in understanding books and storytelling.
Vedovello hopes that this story will inspire reflection and dialogue about questions such as: “How is a home built, and what does it mean that it can be lost?” “How do communities survive amid loss and displacement?” “How does oppression, big and small, transform our lives?”
Looking ahead, Vedovello aspires to write more in the future, including about her grandmother, who was orphaned during World War II and who “has a very important story that doesn’t really get talked about,” she says. “I’m blessed with very wonderful people around me that have beautiful stories and allow me to write about them.”
After graduating from Pomona, Vedovello plans to attend graduate school for education and educational research. Eventually, she would like to work to reform the Italian public school system.
She admits that her English and environmental analysis majors don’t seem very related to that career path. But her educational experience at Pomona gave her a model for what school could look like.
“I never had the chance of doing science or discussing literature like this,” Vedovello says. “And I think both of those things inform my willingness to change the school system in Italy, because of how I enjoy them now, and I was never able to enjoy studying and learning in this way.”