~from intern Joyce Bohling
When visiting writer and CSU alumnus Stephen Church introduced himself at a class visit on Thursday afternoon, I was more than a little surprised to discover how much he and I have in common. We went to the same high school, the same university for our undergraduate work and, all things willing, will someday both have master’s degrees from the same English department. You guessed it: Colorado State University. (He’s already got his master’s, of course. I’m still working on mine.)
Like Church, I once thought I would be a fiction writer and was later seduced to the “dark side” of creative writing: nonfiction. Like Church, I’ve gotten sassy at people who suggested that I will need to reach a wizened old age to write memoir—as though people who write memoir are supposed to have all the big questions answered. And although I never would have articulated it as eloquently as he did at his reading on Thursday evening, I could relate to what Church said about the appeal of creative nonfiction: just as fiction writers can become fascinated by characters who, in their imaginations, take on lives of their own, developing and changing over time; nonfiction writers find ourselves fascinated by ideas that evolve in our minds like characters. Not that we ever reach any grand conclusions.
“The essay,” he states in the first piece he read in the Long’s Peak Room of the Lory Student Center, “is never about the destination. It’s always about the journey.”
While it may seem self-serving to begin a post about a visiting reader by listing the unlikely similarities I share with him, I begin this way because it illustrates why it’s so important to bring creative writers to CSU. For students in the English department, it can sometimes feel like becoming an established writer is impossible, a goal reached only through a series of insurmountable obstacles. Getting work accepted in journals, writing a pitch for a book, working with editors and a publisher: I still sometimes feel as though I will never accomplish these dreams.
It’s a blessing, therefore, when successful writers like Church are invited back to the department, not only to read their work, but to sit down and share their thoughts with student-writers. During a visit to Professor Sloane’s E501: Theories of Writing class on Thursday afternoon, Church answered questions on subjects as diverse as his writing process, the themes of his work (everything from the science of sound to the 80’s television show Manimal), and the nitty gritty on how to get a piece of writing published. He encouraged students to be proactive in their writing careers even while they are still in school, explaining that three of his five published books began as shorter pieces in his master’s thesis and that he started his renowned literary journal, The Normal School, by building on experience he gained as an intern with CSU’s Center for Literary Publishing.
Church’s writing is beautifully lyric and pays close attention to the sound of language. He gets a little miffed, however, when people call his work “poetic.” “All prose should be paying attention to language,” he told the students of 501 and a number of other students and faculty who came to hear him speak.
Sorry Mr. Church, I would describe your work as poetic. An essay that teaches about catfish, seashells, the art of fathoming, and the various meanings of the word “cockle” all in under 4000 words qualifies, in my book, as highly poetic. This seems to be one way that Church and I differ.
But I think I speak for more than myself when I say that I drove home on Thursday night feeling inspired. By the beauty of Church’s writing, yes, but also by his commitment to his chosen art form. I left knowing that even a kid from a quirky college town on the Kansas River can devote his (or her!) life to writing, if he chooses, and be pretty darn good at it, too.
The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is made possible by the support of the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, the ASCSU, the Crow-Tremblay Endowment Fund, and other generous donors. Please visit english.colostate.edu for more information about how to become a donor.
All events are free and open to the public.
Next reading: Gregory Pardlo, Thursday October 13, LSC Ballroom 350A.