Creative writing https://mag.uchicago.edu/tags/creative-writing en Office apocalypse https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/office-apocalypse <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/story/images/19Winter_Chung_Office-apocalypse.jpg" width="1920" height="960" alt="Office apocalypse" title="Office apocalypse" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">admin</span></span> <span>Wed, 02/13/2019 - 10:40</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Ling Ma, AB’05, began writing <em>Severance</em> while working at a company in the process of downsizing—an experience that shaped the book’s narrative and tone. (Photography by Anjali Pinto)</p></div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/jeanie-chung"> <a href="/author/jeanie-chung"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Jeanie Chung</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Winter/19</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>It’s the end of the working world as we know it in Ling Ma’s (AB’05) dystopian novel <em>Severance</em>.</p></div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><strong>Ling Ma</strong>, AB’05, arrived at the College from Kansas planning to study anthropology and become an archaeologist. But in her coursework she had trouble looking at folktales and indigenous myths the way an anthropologist would. “I was entranced by them,” she says, “and the field was about a very strict path of analysis, not about being entranced.”</p> <p>She switched her major to English, and as a third-year won the Margaret C. Annan [PhB’28, AM’33] Undergraduate Award in Writing for a collection of short stories. She returned to UChicago in 2017 as a lecturer and is now an assistant professor of practice in the arts.</p> <p>Both the anthropologist and the storyteller in Ma come to the fore in her debut novel, <em>Severance</em> (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2018). In awarding it the 2018 Kirkus Prize, judges called the book “a portrait of our times—especially our fears.” Several critics have interpreted the book as a commentary on capitalism run amok.</p> <p>Ma has not read much of the response to <em>Severance</em>, which she finds “a little bit surreal, and a little bit upsetting, even if it’s positive.” An upside is that the publicity has prompted many former students to get in touch, offer congratulations, and share how much they liked the book.</p> <p>“That feedback is a million times better than a book review,” she says.</p> <p><em>Severance</em> tells the story of Candace Chen, who joins a cultlike group formed in the wake of a global pandemic called Shen Fever, which causes its victims to repeat the same tasks until they starve to death. The novel contains frequent flashbacks to Candace’s life in New York circa 2011, where she coordinated the production of Bibles for a publishing company. In many cases, the story suggests, those suffering from Shen Fever are not easy to distinguish from healthy people.</p> <p>“To live in a city is to take part in and to propagate its impossible systems,” Ma writes. “To wake up. To go to work in the morning. It is also to take pleasure in those systems because, otherwise, who could repeat the same routines, year in, year out?”</p> <p>Ma says the novel’s structure was influenced by <em>Mad Men</em>. The show taught her that stories can progress “not necessarily by having things happen, but more just a kind of a layering of ideas and themes and memories. More trying to deepen the story rather than have things happen in a linear fashion.”</p> <p>Tonally, she sees <em>Severance</em> as a mash-up, melding the lyricism of arthouse director Terrence Malick and the horror of a George Romero film—with some added inspiration from the TV series <em>Walking Dead</em>, the photography of Vivian Maier, and a 2011 Guggenheim Museum retrospective of the sculptor Maurizio Cattelan’s work.</p> <p>Ma has always drawn from a variety of sources for her fiction. As a student, her visual arts classes and a class on performance monologues fed her writing as much as workshops did. She’s also inspired by work: the tedious, hierarchical, petty, political, corporate grind without which <em>Severance</em> could not exist. Ma, who spent three years as a fact-checker at <em>Playboy</em>, among other office jobs, advises her students to “live and experience the world for a while before you begin writing about it.”</p> <p>“There’s so much about how the world works,” Ma says, “and so much knowledge and information pertinent to specific industries that doesn’t make it into fiction. It doesn’t make it across in fiction, and I think it should.”</p></div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/creative-writing" hreflang="en">Creative writing</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/writing" hreflang="en">Writing</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/books" hreflang="en">Books</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/office-apocalypse" data-a2a-title="Office apocalypse"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Farts-humanities%2Foffice-apocalypse&amp;title=Office%20apocalypse"></a></span> Wed, 13 Feb 2019 16:40:55 +0000 admin 7042 at https://mag.uchicago.edu Outside looking in https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/outside-looking <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/18.8.31_Petiprin_Outside-Looking-In.jpg" width="2000" height="1000" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/rsmith" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">rsmith</span></span> <span>Fri, 08/31/2018 - 13:26</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>DeWoskin has been teaching at UChicago since 2014. What stands out is how “thoughtful and conscientious” her students are. (Photography by Jean Lachat)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/dylan-petiprin-class-2019"> <a href="/author/dylan-petiprin-class-2019"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Dylan Petiprin, Class of 2019</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">08.31.2018</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Writer Rachel DeWoskin’s novel approach to empathy.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><strong>Rachel DeWoskin</strong> was 10 when she visited the <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/779&amp;sa=D&amp;ust=1535743499572000&amp;usg=AFQjCNHVJCpB9zHT_KoD9bkNeLBLM0CZtw">Giant Buddha of Leshan, China</a>. At 233 feet, the Leshan Buddha is the world’s largest premodern statue. For DeWoskin, it seemed like “the biggest thing in the entire universe.”</p> <p>Seeing the statue was a formative moment for DeWoskin. Its size was not only shocking but humbling.</p> <p>“My own life wasn’t necessarily central to the larger workings of the world, and I wasn’t a protagonist in every single story,” she recalls realizing.</p> <p>Now a <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://creativewriting.uchicago.edu/faculty&amp;sa=D&amp;ust=1535743499574000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGgFXmaoSToURVzsKzksz858fgIIg">creative writing assistant professor of practice in the arts</a>, DeWoskin purposefully separates herself from the role of protagonist. Her four novels—<em>Repeat After Me</em> (The Overlook Press, 2009), <em>Big Girl Small </em>(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), <em>Blind</em> (Viking, 2014), and the forthcoming <em>Someday We Will Fly</em> (Penguin, 2019)—each explore diversity in perspective as a path toward empathy. “They’re always about being on the outside of something that you can’t fully understand,” she says.</p> <p>Leshan wasn’t the only place DeWoskin arrived as an outsider. Her parents, an English teacher and a sinologist, brought her on research trips across the world. Before she could drive, DeWoskin was helping excavate ancient bronze bell sets. It was the type of experience that gifted her an appreciation for different histories and cultures.</p> <p>The trips were also opportunities for DeWoskin to explore her blossoming passion for writing— though the results weren’t always profound.</p> <p>“I wrote absolutely appalling poems as a kid,” she says. “My mom used to joke that I was going to grow up and work for a Hallmark card company because I was so sentimental and so rhymy.”</p> <p>It was the greeting card industry’s loss when her mother’s prediction proved false. After graduating from college, DeWoskin moved to Beijing, where a chance encounter landed her a part in a Chinese soap opera. That show, <em>Foreign Babes in Beijing</em>, exploded in popularity, reaching 600 million viewers in one season.</p> <p>But fame brought its own issues. For one, DeWoskin was only paid $80 an episode despite the show’s success. There was also the internal struggle to reconcile her real self with that of her TV persona, a character influencing a nation’s understanding of Western women.</p> <p>“I had been a public figure there, and I had been a representative of American culture,” she says. “I had to grapple with the moral nuance of my participation in the show.”</p> <p>She did that grappling back in the United States with her memoir, <em>Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China</em> (Norton, 2005). Though DeWoskin thinks she’s better suited to writing fiction than nonfiction, she believes her initial autobiographical work informed her later novels.</p> <p>“I would argue that the craft requirements of the two are essentially identical. You have to do a lot of research to understand the world you’re creating or representing. You have to create something propulsive and shapely out of the complete chaos of human experience,” she says.</p> <p>DeWoskin will go to great lengths to ensure she is portraying her characters thoughtfully. For <em>Blind</em>, she took braille lessons over the course of a year. For <em>Someday We Will Fly</em>, DeWoskin spent six summers in Shanghai, researching the realities young Polish refugees faced in the city during World War II.</p> <div class="story-inline-img"> <figure role="group"><img alt="Outside Looking In Book Cover" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="b521dbdc-fb17-4232-a52c-eb56a3e45681" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/18.8.31_Petiprin_Outside-Looking-In_SpotA_0.png" /><figcaption>(Courtesy Viking Press)</figcaption></figure></div> <p>The time abroad strengthened her belief in exploring the book’s central questions. “How do kids survive war? How do kids survive separation from their families? It feels unimaginable, but we have a responsibility as human beings to imagine it,” she says.</p> <p>Of course, it would be easier to spend less time with each novel, but that’s not how DeWoskin has built her reputation. Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-prj-blind-rachel-dewoskin-20140912-story.html&amp;sa=D&amp;ust=1535743499573000&amp;usg=AFQjCNH7hPnZOgyhLVEnIk4csAtk_RL2yA">explained to the <em>Chicago Tribune</em></a>, “her writing goes deeper than easy laughs or easy tears, with a toughness that makes her work all the more memorably funny and poignant.”</p> <p>DeWoskin relishes digging into her characters’ dignity, fears, and flaws—even when they seem to oppose one another. “We each contain many contradictory versions of ourselves,” she says. “So if you can render that complexity and that kind of human contradiction in a character, then you've said something true.”</p> <p>Since joining the UChicago faculty in 2014, DeWoskin has sought to empower students to speak their own truths. She insists they can create lives as writers if they want, just as she has. For those heading in other directions, she still stresses the importance literature should have in everyday life. “Reading allows for a kind of literary empathy and real empathy that are not only good for humanity, but I think also necessary for human happiness,” she says.</p> <p>It’s a message that her UChicago students have been particularly receptive to.</p> <p>“I came to the University of Chicago, and almost immediately, I had this imagination-bending experience of students who were consistently so thoughtful and conscientious—not just about their work, in the way that good undergraduate students can be, but about the world,” she says.</p> <p>Her students’ global consciousness is a near-perfect match for DeWoskin, who has spent her life contextualizing her place in the larger world. But that awareness can also be humbling for students. Some wonder, who will listen to me? What gives any one person the right to write?</p> <p>DeWoskin shares the answer she’s learned for herself.</p> <p>“There's this quotation I like about how all the writing is a big body of water. Each individual writer contributes to that body of water,” she explains. “And it's responsible and reasonable to want your voice to be part of that conversation.”</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/creative-writing" hreflang="en">Creative writing</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/books" hreflang="en">Books</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/outside-looking" data-a2a-title="Outside looking in "><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Farts-humanities%2Foutside-looking&amp;title=Outside%20looking%20in%20"></a></span> Fri, 31 Aug 2018 18:26:59 +0000 rsmith 6981 at https://mag.uchicago.edu Lyrics for a band that doesnʼt exist https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/lyrics-band-doesnt-exist <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/story/images/18_Summer_Golus_Lyrics.jpg" width="2000" height="1000" alt="Lyrics for a band that doesnʼt exist" title="Lyrics for a band that doesnʼt exist" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">admin</span></span> <span>Tue, 07/31/2018 - 15:03</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>“Bewilderment is a crucial part of religious experience,” says creative writing visiting faculty member Peter O’Leary, AB’90, AM’94, PhD’99. (Photography by Nathan Keay)</p></div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/carrie-golus-ab91-am93"> <a href="/author/carrie-golus-ab91-am93"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/core" hreflang="en">The Core</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Summer/18</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Peter O’Leary, AB’90, AM’94, PhD’99, on Rush, Yes, Steinbeck, Salinger, and faith.</p></div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>As a poet who writes about religious themes, “you’re hopelessly obscure,” says <strong>Peter O’Leary</strong>, AB’90 (English), AM’94, PhD’99 (Divinity School), a Catholic. “Poetry already is so obscure. How could I make myself more obscure?”</p> <p>O’Leary, who teaches at UChicago and the School of the Art Institute, has published five books of poetry and five chapbooks. His most recent book is the essay collection <em>Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age</em> (Columbia University Press, 2018), which argues for the importance of religious poetry in American literature.</p> <h2>How and when did you start writing poetry?</h2> <p>I was completely immersed, saturated, in progressive rock as a teenager. The two bands that were the most important to me were the Canadian power trio Rush and the British prog rock outfit Yes. I was basically writing lyrics for a band that didn’t exist.</p> <h2>Has religion always been a theme?</h2> <p>Always. The other thing that I was strongly, deeply involved with in my teenage years was science fiction and fantasy literature. Religion is an ongoing engagement in fantasy literature.</p> <h2>Why study at the Div School?</h2> <p>I had a very strong but unformed conviction about the need to heed the vocation of poetry. I needed an apprenticeship, but decided—for reasons that were similarly unformed—that I did not want to get a creative writing degree. The Divinity School seemed like a place I could do that.</p> <p>I unexpectedly discovered there was a great deal more there for me. In addition to studying literature in this cryptoreligious sense, I just learned an incredible amount.</p> <h2>In 1992 you wrote to the poet Ronald Johnson (1935–98) for advice, and he sent back a two-page letter. What did he tell you?</h2> <p>That most of poetry writing happens on your own. You can go to school to learn some stuff, you can have people that you love to talk to about poetry, but when it comes down to it, it’s you and the blank page.</p> <p>The most important thing was he took me seriously. That letter initiated a correspondence that lasted five or six years until Johnson died. That period really constituted my initiation into poetry—I felt that my petition had been accepted. It was the most significant learning experience and probably creative experience of my life. [O’Leary is now Johnson’s literary executor.]</p> <h2>What is it like to write religious poetry in our time and culture?</h2> <p>I was recently telling Chicu Reddy [associate professor of English and creative writing] about a long poem I’m writing about astrology and the horoscope. He said, So it’s ironic? And I said no.</p> <p>Any Renaissance scholar would have known his horoscope cold. That would have been one of the most complete ways of understanding your place in the cosmos. And Chicu said—he was being very sweet about it—“So you’re writing the most unfashionable possible poem you could write.” That basically has been my career.</p> <p>So that’s one side, hopeless obscurity. But because of the nature of my work, I’ve had the chance to present it to nonacademic audiences. I’ve gone on church retreat weekends—I’ve been the invited poet. Most people love literature, and they love to talk about metaphor, especially when it comes to their faith lives.</p> <h2>Do you have any writing rituals?</h2> <p>I have a study, which I have not ironically named the Dynamic Core, after the part of your brain where the thalamus and the cerebral cortex communicate. It’s the thing from which consciousness springs.</p> <p>I go in there and write every day in the morning. The simple rule is 15 minutes. You’d be surprised at how much you accumulate that way, but it always turns into more. I’ve been teaching myself Old English, so I study Old English for about a half hour, then write for a half hour, 45 minutes. A lot of note taking right now about astrology, but it counts.</p> <p>About two years ago I discovered these notebooks made by this old manufacturer in Lisbon [Portugal] called Emilio Braga. They’re the perfect size. They have an excellent binding that opens flat.</p> <p>The Palomino Blackwing, the 602, is one of the greatest pencils ever—[John] Steinbeck’s pencil. It’s got a motto, “Half the pressure, twice the speed,” embossed on the barrel, a very artful eraser and ferrule. I like to fetishize small precious objects. It’s really cheap if pencils are your thing.</p> <h2>A lot of young poets write on their phones, I’m told.</h2> <p>Poetry is one of the art forms whose technology has changed very little. We can do what we do almost anywhere. I strongly encourage my students to use little pocket notebooks. I don’t discourage them from using their phones, that’s fine. But I do want them to think a great deal about their process and to print things out.</p> <p>Paper is so far the best data storage technology that humans have invented. If you have paper copies of your drafts, you can always go back. There may be a chunk of something you don’t use, but six months later, six years later, you’ll use it. It’s the compost pile midden heap.</p> <h2>In your most recent book, <em>Thick and Dazzling Darkness</em>, you write about having periods of religious doubt. Does that come into your work?</h2> <p>Not in any autobiographical sense. It does come into the work thematically in that I’m interested in bewilderment. Bewilderment is a crucial part of religious experience.</p> <p>My experience is that faith is sometimes really intense and sometimes on a low flame. The thing that modifies that for me is participation in ritual. I’m a churchgoer. And for 20 years or so, I’ve had a daily prayer practice that involves recitation of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” You regulate your breathing connected to it, so it’s very similar to contemplative prayer practices in many other traditions.</p> <h2>There’s a J. D. Salinger short story about it.</h2> <p>Exactly: “Franny.” Like many people, that was my first encounter with that prayer. I love that story. It’s unimprovable.</p></div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/poetry" hreflang="en">Poetry</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/creative-writing" hreflang="en">Creative writing</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/college-alumni" hreflang="en">College alumni</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/lyrics-band-doesnt-exist" data-a2a-title="Lyrics for a band that doesnʼt exist"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Farts-humanities%2Flyrics-band-doesnt-exist&amp;title=Lyrics%20for%20a%20band%20that%20doesn%CA%BCt%20exist"></a></span> Tue, 31 Jul 2018 20:03:56 +0000 admin 6942 at https://mag.uchicago.edu The write stuff https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/write-stuff <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/17.09_Akin_Write-Stuff.jpg" width="2000" height="807" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Thu, 09/07/2017 - 16:30</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>(Photography by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/people/helmi099/">helmi099</a> [<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>])</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/kaitlyn-akin-19"> <a href="/author/kaitlyn-akin-19"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Kaitlyn Akin, ’19</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">09.08.2017</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The Graham School’s Writer’s Studio provides a home for budding authors.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>“I really would like to venture out to this thing called ‘writing,’” one of the students admits. The handful of others attending the seminar nod—some are newbies, and others have finished novels, but all enrolled in the Writer’s Studio for that very reason: venturing out and improving their skills.</p> <p>The Writer’s Studio is an open enrollment program run through the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. Dozens of classes are offered throughout the year for Chicago writers, young and old, experienced and novice.</p> <p>Writer’s Studio director <strong>Gina DiPonio</strong>, AM’01, has developed new courses continually since assuming the position a year and a half ago. “I am thinking about what doesn’t already exist that would be exciting, and that would serve the writing of students, and that instructors would be excited about teaching,” she says.</p> <p>The classes cover a wide range of genres and skill sets, from Basic Creative Writing to Publishing Your Book for Children or Young Adults. Although none of the classes have formal prerequisites, many writers choose to take them in sequence, staying with the same tight-knit group of classmates.</p> <p>A few of the women attending a class this July called Writing Killer Scenes are old friends. As they pull out laptops and pads of paper, they chat idly about the changes they’ve made to their stories since their previous class with today’s instructor Susan Hubbard, cowriter of the feature film <em>Realization </em>(2006)<em>.</em></p> <p>As they wait for everyone to arrive, the students write name tags on thick folded cardstock. Hubbard bustles about the room, setting up the projector and scrawling tips for upping the ante in a scene on a large pad of paper in the corner of the room. She’s a writer who looks the part, with a bright orange dress, a cloud of fly-away black hair, and large tortoiseshell glasses.</p> <p>The half dozen students, meanwhile, are as diverse as their writing. Karen, an elementary school teacher and middle-grade author, and Nancy, a retired fashion designer turned writer working on a romantic comedy, joke with Hubbard about their previous seminar, which Hubbard describes as “really off the charts.”</p> <p>Other students are newcomers to the craft. Michael, an accountant, is looking to escape from the “rigid” world of thesis writing he found while getting his master’s. He admits that, as a novice fiction writer, he struggles to find original ideas. </p> <p>“The best ideas to write about have already been written,” he laments. The class, still midway through introductions, begins a lively discussion over this concept. Was anything truly original? Is there harm in having other authors influence your work?</p> <p>After a few minutes, Hubbard cuts in, describing writing as a “process of discovery for ourselves. … We are saying something we believe to be true about the world.” Each person’s unique perspective, she says, is inherently original.</p> <p>The class continues with this same vigor. Hubbard shows scenes from movies like <em>When Harry Met Sally</em> (1989) and <em>Eye in the Sky</em> (2015), and asks students to analyze which narrative choices created emotional impact. After some discussion, she asks students how they might apply the same concepts to the scenes in their novels or screenplays.</p> <p>Hubbard encourages the writers to spend the last few minutes working on their scenes, incorporating the major lessons of the day. The class sits silently, the gentle scratch of pen on paper and fingers on keys filling the air. Students pause frequently to think, sporting identical middle-distance stares. Hubbard breaks in and asks writers to consider the setting of the scene—is it appropriate? Which characters are listening?</p> <p>After another few minutes of free writing, the class ends. Many students linger, looking to get in one last question or talk about their work with a classmate. Most of them are waiting for another Writer’s Studio offering, an event called The Business of Writing.</p> <p>The Business of Writing features three panel discussions with published authors about how they work and their path to publication. The presenters universally preach caution and patience, and speak openly about the reality of living off of fiction writing (the consensus: you can’t).</p> <p>Regardless, attendees hang on each word, following up with a flurry of questions and even challenges. One man in the back of the room calls toward the panelists, “I am emboldened by stories of failure,” and asks them to share a story of when things went wrong. The crowd laughs as Cyn Vargus, author of short story collection <em>On The Way</em>, begins an anecdote about the time an agent compared her work to “watching water boil.”</p> <p>For DiPonio, this direct interaction between writers, both in the classroom and at larger events, is the heart of the Writer’s Studio program. “I think the student experience has been really strong over the last year or more, and I want ... to reap the benefits of the community of being a consistent source of inspiration and writing community for a big and growing group of people.”</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/writing" hreflang="en">Writing</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/creative-writing" hreflang="en">Creative writing</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/creative-process" hreflang="en">Creative process</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/graham-school" hreflang="en">Graham School</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/graduate-alumni" hreflang="en">Graduate alumni</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/write-stuff" data-a2a-title="The write stuff"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Farts-humanities%2Fwrite-stuff&amp;title=The%20write%20stuff"></a></span> Thu, 07 Sep 2017 21:30:53 +0000 jmiller 6664 at https://mag.uchicago.edu Zadie Smith’s rhythm in print https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/zadie-smiths-rhythm-print <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1701_Hadavas_Zadie-Smith.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Fri, 01/13/2017 - 14:28</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>At the DuSable Museum, writer Zadie Smith discussed her new novel, the power of childhood friendship, and why having a two-year-old is like “operating a kind of fascist theocracy.” (Photography by Dominique Nabokov, courtesy Penguin Press)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/chloe-hadavas-ab17"> <a href="/author/chloe-hadavas-ab17"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Chloe Hadavas, AB’17</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">01.13.2017</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The renowned novelist discusses her fifth novel, <em>Swing Time</em>, with assistant professor Vu Tran.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><img src="http://mag.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/1701_Hadavas_Zadie-Smith_spotA.jpg" align="right" width="160" />Zadie Smith remembers a time when she deified writers. “Now I don’t have the same sense of grandeur,” she says. “I recognize writing as a psychological condition.”</p> <p>But Smith’s devoted readership hasn’t lost that feeling of wonder. When the celebrated novelist appeared on stage at the DuSable Museum of African American History in November to discuss her new novel <em>Swing Time</em> (Penguin Press, 2016), the audience set down their canary-yellow hardcovers to bring their hands together in loud and enthusiastic applause. Smith subdued the greeting with a nonchalant flick of her hand.</p> <p>The sold-out event was presented by the Seminary Co-op in partnership with the DuSable Museum, along with the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture; Committee on Creative Writing; and Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.</p> <h5>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3818","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"358","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]<br /> Vu Tran and Zadie Smith. (Photography by @chattycee)</h5> <p>After taking the podium, Smith read an excerpt from <em>Swing Time</em>, in which the unnamed narrator reflects upon the defining friendship of her childhood. The narrator interweaves stories of adulthood with memories of Tracey—like the narrator, a biracial girl with a love of dance, navigating adolescence in northwest London's public housing. The final line of the excerpt, in which the pair, silently arranging a Barbie’s clothes after a spiteful exchange, “got that tiny white woman’s life together,” drew big laughs.</p> <p>“The book portrays certain friendships as simultaneously vital and destructive,” said Vu Tran, novelist and assistant professor of practice in the arts in the Department of English, who led the conversation with Smith that followed the reading. Smith nodded and recounted a story she heard from a friend who jumped into a bush to avoid bumping into a woman who resembled someone from her school days. “That period for everyone seems to have a certain intensity,” said Smith. But especially for girls, “who form themselves in contrast to other girls.”</p> <p>Girlhood is interlaced with motherhood throughout <em>Swing Time</em>. As a working mother of two herself, Smith has come to think of parenthood as an unfree existence. As she writes in <em>Swing Time</em>, “What do we want from our mothers when we are children? Complete submission.”</p> <p>“It’s a relationship that involves some very basic frictions,” Smith explained. Parents and children are locked in both a battle for control and a state of mutual dependency. Parents of very young children do have a special kind of power, she pointed out. “If you have a two-year-old, you’re operating a kind of fascist theocracy."</p> <p>One of the book’s defining motifs, which Tran and Smith frequently returned to in their conversation, is rhythm. Tran pointed out that the work literally swings back and forth through time. But rhythm is most prominent in the novel’s exploration of dance.</p> <p>Before sitting down to write the book, Smith said that she considered whether there is a thread that runs all the way through the African diaspora. She eventually decided upon dance. Dance, to her, asks, “What is the essence of my people?” She mused that it “embodies the idea of sorrow, deep sorrow, and what people are capable of in extreme circumstances.”</p> <p>Her ruminations on dance concluded the conversation, after which a lively Q&amp;A session with the audience began. Smith respectfully fielded what she called “the Trump question,” as well as queries on cultural appropriation, her use of the first person, and her writing process. “The critical part of my brain is always on,” she said. Oftentimes, she admitted, “you have to think about the reader as someone you’re always playing on, manipulating.”</p> <p>But there was no hint of manipulation in Smith’s rapport with her audience—an audience filled with fans who waited patiently in a line that wrapped well around the auditorium just to have their books signed and to exchange a few words with her.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/creative-writing" hreflang="en">Creative writing</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedstories field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>“<a href="http://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/grace-notes" target="_blank">Grace Notes</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, Winter/16)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedlinks field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p><strong><a href="https://www.semcoop.com/event" target="_blank">Learn</a></strong> more about the Seminary Co-op’s upcoming events.</p> <p><strong><a href="https://twitter.com/roomwithavu" target="_blank">Follow</a></strong> Vu Tran on Twitter (<a href="https://twitter.com/roomwithavu" target="_blank">@roomwithavu</a>)</p> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/arts-humanities/zadie-smiths-rhythm-print" data-a2a-title="Zadie Smith’s rhythm in print"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Farts-humanities%2Fzadie-smiths-rhythm-print&amp;title=Zadie%20Smith%E2%80%99s%20rhythm%20in%20print"></a></span> Fri, 13 Jan 2017 20:28:47 +0000 jmiller 6164 at https://mag.uchicago.edu