Alums and Creative Writing

Delighted to see that a graduate from the class of 2017 has recently published her debut novel with St. Martin’s Press. Jenny Fran Davis’s ’17 Everything Must Go has recently come out — the first of her two book deals with the prestigious publisher. In a recent interview Jenny says that:

“Most of the literary analysis that Flora does in the book comes out of work that I’ve done in classes at Wesleyan and in high school. It’s a really neat thing to be a student while writing a book, because you can slip into these modes of double-thinking, thinking as both a literary analyst and a writer. Suddenly everything you read is applicable and pertinent. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) and Emily Dickinson are foundational and contribute to a particular canon of writing by and about women, but I found myself thinking about more contemporary novels as I wrote, as well as media texts like newspaper and magazine articles (I read a ton of Rookie) and e-mails and texts from friends. I loved studying Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar), Jacqueline Susann (Valley of the Dolls), and Toni Morrison (Beloved and The Bluest Eye) with Sally Bachner in my Women’s Lib, Women’s Lit class, and reading Roxane Gay in a Writing through Trauma student forum was very exciting and momentum building.”

You can read the full interview here.

Jenny’s book is on the YA shelves, not far from that of another Wesleyan alum, Daniel Handler ’92. The creator of Lemony Snicket has a new novel out, All the Dirty Parts. Daniel’s “raunchy and original” novel is on my reading list for winter break, and it promises to be provocative and thoughtful.

Readers can also look forward to Shapiro-Silverberg Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Amy Bloom‘s new novel, White Houses, to be published in the spring by Random House. Amy ’75 re-imagines the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok — friends, lovers and participants in a grand historical moment. The novel is steeped in that history, and shines with beautiful, deeply felt prose.

I’ll just note one more work in progress: Quiara Alegria Hudes, Wesleyan’s Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater, is away from campus working on a number of projects. Her plays, Water by the Spoonful and The Happiest Song Plays Last, are currently being staged in Portland. She wrote the book and lyrics for Miss You Like Hell, which will premiere at New York’s Public Theater in March.

There are PLENTY more alums doing great things in this sphere…. Add your favorites to the comments, if you’d like.

Shasha Seminar on the Novel

The novel has been at the core of lifelong learning for generations of students, and so I am delighted that this year’s Shasha Seminar will focus on the genre. Amy Bloom, who directs the Shapiro Creative Writing Center, is leading the event, which will take place on campus April 5-6. “The Novel is not only the form of fiction I love and know best,” she writes, “but also a form that is still enormously popular and evolving with readers, whether they are e-readers, fans of the turning page or creators and readers of novels that emerge Tweet by Tweet.  This will be a star-studded feast for readers and writers, a combination of pleasure, intellectual stimulation, with provocative questions, sublime readings and some unexpected answers.” Amy’s remarkable new novel, Lucky Us, is coming out this summer, and she has gathered together a most impressive group of authors to participate in the program.

A recent Philip Roth (no relation) interview in The New York Times underscored some crucial aspects of the genre. I particularly liked this: “The thought of the novel is embodied in the moral focus of the novel. The tool with which the novelist thinks is the scrupulosity of his style. Here, in all this, lies whatever magnitude his thought may have.”

In my Modern and Post-Modern course, students will soon have the pleasure of reading Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, and in the same class they’ve already read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. These novels are among a dozen or so I’ve taught over the years in my intellectual history classes, and the political, moral and aesthetic dimensions of the works have been key to my thinking about a wide range of issues. The Shasha Seminar will provide plenty to consider in relation to fantasy, history, politics, identity, desire and aesthetics…. It surely will be a feast for readers and writers!

The Shasha Seminar on The Novel begins Saturday, April 5, 2014 with a reception lunch.  Some sessions are open and free for students, and you can find out more about the event here.


Making a Difference in the Environment — Natural, Political and Cultural

This evening I read an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times describing how efforts to increase forest density have led to a cascade of negative effects on local and regional eco-systems.  Well meaning attempts to “save the trees” have depleted water reserves and changed weather and soil dynamics. “As temperatures rise,” the authors conclude, “too much forest strangles too many watersheds.” Although the op-ed is brief, its arguments are built on serious research and analysis. I was delighted to see that the authors are Helen M. Poulos and Jamie G. Workman, who have been working together at Wesleyan’s College of the Environment. Helen is a post-doctoral fellow and Jamie is a Visiting Professor in the COE’s think tank. Both have been working with students this year on issues concerning water. Indeed this week they are hearing seniors present their own research, work that usually links environmental science with at least one other field. Barry Chernoff, Schumann Professor of Environmental Science and COE founder, conceived of the think tank as place for rigorous critique and generous collaboration. It’s also a place where scholars can think together about how to translate their research into interventions in the public sphere.

This week has also seen scores of media outlets using the data provided by the Wesleyan Media Project. The WMP’s latest report deals with heavy-duty pollution — the sharp rise in negative ads as compared with the 2008 presidential campaign. Project Director and Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler says that in addition to the rise in negative tone, “60 percent of all ads are sponsored by interest groups, which is really, truly a historic number.” Erika leads a team of student researchers in Middletown who code and analyze data from across the country. This research will become ever more important as the campaign churns along.

Maybe I should close with an example of Wesleyan folks attending to more positive aspects of the environment: all writers on campus working to improve the cultural world we breathe. This past weekend, Amy Bloom ’74, Kim-Frank University Writer in Residence, led Foodstock, a celebration of food and writing about it. From all accounts, the participants had an enlightening, nourishing day — and they also collected quite a bit of money and food for the Amazing Grace Food Pantry.

On Wednesday, May 9 student writing prize winners will read from their poetry and prose at Russell House, starting at 8:00 pm. The student writers who will be reading this evening,  in the this order (thanks to Anne Greene for the information):

Marina Reza ’13 (Herbert Lee Connelly nonfiction award co-winner, along with Jessica Jordan ’13 , who’s abroad)

Katherine Gibbel ’15 (Sarah Hannah Prize, poetry)

Aditi Kini ’13  (Horgan Prize, fiction)

Corey Dethier ’12  (Sophie Reed Prize, poetry)

Anna Swartz ’13  (Wesleyan Fiction Award)

I’m sure that this will be a contribution to our cultural environment that our writers will sustain!