Creative Writing

I Did It Wrong: How to be a Creative Person in the World, 2018 Mary Higgins Clark Chair

This past week, we were honored to host Lev Grossman as our 2018 Mary Higgins Clark Chair. Grossman is the New York Times bestselling author of the “Magicians” trilogy, now adapted into a Syfy original series. During his time in residence, Grossman delivered a lecture, conducted craft classes, advised students 1-on-1, and attended a High Tea with students and faculty at the St. Regis.

His presentation, titled “I Did It Wrong: How to be a Creative Person in the World,” addressed what he described as the “embarrassing or near-fatal mistakes” he made over the course of his writing career, as well as how such missteps could be avoided. In particular, he emphasized the importance of rejection, community, and knowing oneself as a writer.

“As much as [writing] is about finding your voice and honing your craft, it is about rejection,” said Grossman.

He spoke on his background as a writer, including growing up in a literature-loving household and his childhood enchantment with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Later, as an undergraduate, he repeatedly failed to be published in The Harvard Advocate, and after graduation, he traveled to Maine for an unsuccessful attempt at literary isolation.

“Art is rarely made by people on their own,” Grossman said of this episode.

It wasn’t until years later that he was able to find his voice, his genre, and his form: the humorous fantasy novel, as represented by The Magicians.

After the lecture, Grossman answered questions from the audience and signed books. Students such as Brielle Intorcia, FCLC ‘20, reacted positively to his presentation.

“I really resonated with the idea that writing is always together, with other people,” said Intorcia. “I had never thought about that before.”

Intorcia also expressed her appreciation for MHC events as an opportunity to glean insight from successful writers.

Over the two days that followed his presentation, Grossman continued offering insight in the form of craft classes and 1-on-1 advising at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center. In classes, he gave students practical tips on how to improve their writing, advising them to write like a reader, break rules, and remember that fiction isn’t rocket science.

Finally, on Wednesday, Lev Grossman attended High Tea at the St. Regis along with English department students, faculty, and prospective majors. Creative writing concentrator Ann Pekata, FCLC ‘20, enjoyed this chance to meet Grossman face-to-face after reading his novel.

“I read Lev Grossman’s book a couple years ago and thought it would be cool to meet him,” said Pekata.

She also appreciated the opportunity to network with other members of the English department, particularly in such a high-class setting.

“I gained some new friends at the table, so that was cool!” said Pekata. “I also discovered how much I love tarts.”

Going forward, the English Department and Creative Writing Program hope to continue to provide students with opportunities to learn from accomplished writers such as Grossman, as well as the chance to come together as a department and discuss the literature that inspires us.

 Students, faculty, and the MHC Chair enjoyed tea, desserts, and each other’s company during High Tea at the St. Regis.

Students, faculty, and the MHC Chair enjoyed tea, desserts, and each other’s company during High Tea at the St. Regis.

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 Lev Grossman signed copies of  The Magicians  for those in attendance of his lecture.

Lev Grossman signed copies of The Magicians for those in attendance of his lecture.

 After his presentation, Grossman addressed questions from students and faculty in attendance.

After his presentation, Grossman addressed questions from students and faculty in attendance.

 

Reid-Mullarkey Research and Teaching Forum--October 24th

You are invited to the next Reid-Mullarky Reseach and Teaching Forum—Writing and Teaching in the Age of the Unspeakable. Wednesday, October 24th from 2:30pm-6:30pm at Rose Hill’s Duane Library, Room 351 and videoconference to LL309. Please plan to attend. Tea will be served. For more info see below.

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Q&A with Fordham Alum, Naima Coster, Kirkus-nominated author of Halsey Street

Naima Coster (GSAS), acclaimed author of Halsey Street, isn’t interested in asking the easy questions. Her debut novel tackles gentrification, explores psychological complexity, and invites self-interrogation on the part of its readers. Halsey Street has brought Coster critical recognition, including a Kirkus Prize nomination and a place on the must-read lists of publications across the country.

This week the Creative Writing program spoke with Coster about the thought process underlying the novel and her experience of writing about flawed humans in a very real world.

Q: Your debut novel Halsey Street has been lauded for its skilled depiction of family, loss, and renewal. What motivated you to tackle the messiness of life and relationships and in the way that you did?

One of the reasons I love fiction is that it’s one of the only avenues we have for slipping into the consciousness of another person. We’re stuck inside our own heads, our perceptions, memories, and reactions the rest of the time. But while this is one of the pleasures of fiction, it’s also uncomfortable. It can be troubling, it can hurt, to inhabit someone’s mind, to become so well acquainted with the inner life of another. I knew that if I was going to be writing so close to my characters, the book would become difficult, charged with all the emotions and wounds and aspirations the characters are carrying. But there’s no other way I’m interested in writing. And the difficulty, the discomfort of being so close to these complicated characters, is fitting for the novel. Halsey Street is in part about unbearable emotions and the ways we attempt to cope. In the book, characters lose themselves in music, turn to gin, run, make art, garden, seek intimacy. Sometimes we’re not sure how to hold the messier facts of our lives, our difficult emotions, but fiction can hold it for us, and so can other literary forms.

Q: You alternate between the perspectives of Penelope and Mirella in Halsey Street. What was the experience of alternating consciousnesses like in writing the book, particularly for two characters in such different physical and mental states? What did you hope to reveal through these particular voices?

At the level of the prose, the two perspectives in the book sound quite a lot like one another. The perspectives differ chiefly in terms of the quality of mind of each of the characters. There were periods of time when I wrote solely in Penelope’s point of view for long stretches; there were times when I was looking only at the sections of the book that belonged to Mirella. The trickier moments were the ones where their points of view collide later in the book. I hoped that these voices would complicate and illuminate one another to tell a moving, fraught, sticky story of a broken family. Neither of their versions is quite right, but they’re both telling the truth from where they’re standing. And this truth telling is essential if the women are ever going to find their way back to one another.

Q: In your work you address gentrification in Brooklyn, an issue that has gained much attention and media coverage in recent years. How have your themes changed with and been influenced by the world around you?

I knew there was no way I could write a book that would tackle every potential facet of gentrification--it’s too huge. I also knew the pressure to represent the issue could squeeze out any nuance or depth from the book. Gentrification is the context pressing in on the lives of the characters, but the story told here is actually quite small: about one neighborhood record store that closes, about two families: one old and one new. I let the lives of the characters shape the fiction, although I was always collecting details from news stories, anecdotes from friends, my own time in New York City. Anytime I thought I’d perhaps gone too far in my depiction of gentrification, the real world corroborated my fiction. I wanted to make the book bold but not didactic; I wanted to raise questions for the reader, unsettle any easy ideas about gentrification and its impact.

Q: Halsey Street has been able to reach a wide and diverse audience as it has been on the must-read lists of publications including People, Bustle, and Kirkus Reviews. What kind of effect do you hope your work has on readers, and what would you like them to take away from the novel?

I hope that my readers will be able to locate themselves in my work. I think that’s a bit different than relating to the characters; rather, it’s about being able to see more clearly how you’re operating in the world, in your neighborhood, in your family, with respect to yourself, after spending time in the fiction. I’ve heard from fathers who told me they wanted to spend more time being emotionally attentive to their daughters after reading Halsey Street because they saw themselves playing the role of material provider above all in their families; I’ve heard from young transplants to Brooklyn that they’re reevaluating how they regard their neighborhood after reading about the newcomers to Bed-Stuy in the book. The richest books, to me, are the ones that in some way leave me thinking about myself, the people around me, and how I want to live. Fiction isn’t self-help, but it can lead to self-interrogation and self-reflection, which, I believe, are invaluable.


Q: You said in another interview that you probably wouldn't write about gentrification again. Going forward, what kind of themes, questions, and mediums are you looking to explore through your writing, and has the experience of writing your debut novel influenced how you address these topics?

I’m certain that I’ll continue to be interested in family and memory, race and belonging, place and how it forms us, and the interior lives of women. But even with these thematic commitments, anything is possible. I have two novels that I’m working on now. One is a story of how the integration of a local public high school in contemporary North Carolina brings together two different families and intertwines their lives and fates forever. The other is a work of speculative fiction, and it’s about a young woman’s quest to save her family. While she is on this journey, she’s learning how to be tender at the same time that the world requires that she be hard. In both of these works, I’m paying careful attention to the physical world, to the social forces that shape my characters’ lives, and to their interiors, their relationships.

Halsey Street is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 Author Naima Coster, pictured above, delves into themes of “family, loss, and renewal.“

Author Naima Coster, pictured above, delves into themes of “family, loss, and renewal.“

 Cover of  Halsey Street.

Cover of Halsey Street.

Call for Applications: The English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration

The Creative Writing Program at Fordham University is accepting applications for the English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration from October 1st - November 1st.

What it is:

Premised on the belief that the study of literature and the practice of writing are mutually reinforcing, the English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration emphasizes the inter-relations among creative writing, digital media, criticism, and scholarship.

How it works:

As a concentration with a dual focus on literature and creative work, fully integrated within the English department, this degree offering combines literature courses, small writing workshops, and practical industry training to prepare students for advanced study or careers in writing, media, and publishing. In addition, students benefit from the resources provided by New York City, a worldwide center for literary publishing.

Christina Elia, Published in The Tishman Review

Congratulations to Christina Elia on the publication of her autobiographical essay, “Avos” that appeared in The Tishman Review, April 2018. The essay appears on pages 86 to 90. 

Christina is a Fordham University student who is pursuing her BA in Art History and Communications. She writes about topics ranging from arts and culture to practical tips and how-to advice. She has also been published on sites such as Odessy.com and currently writes for Select Magazine

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English Major Taylor Shaw Interviews Rigoberto González

English Major Taylor Shaw Interviews Rigoberto González

Fordham English major Taylor Shaw published an interview in the Fordham Ram with writer Rigoberto González, who last Monday read his work to a huge crowd at Pope Auditorium as this year's participant in the Reid Family Writers of Color Reading Series.

Rigoberto González Reading, Talk, and Book-Signing

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Rigoberto González, author of Autobiography of My Hungers, spoke on Monday, April 16, at 5pm in Pope Auditorium on Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus. His visit was part of the Reid Family Writers of Color Reading Series, which since 2008 has brought some of the most celebrated writers of color to Fordham.  Events have included readings, master classes and panel discussions.  The English Department at Fordham is deeply grateful to the Reid Family for their continuing generosity.

Rigoberto González is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include two bilingual children's books, the three young adult novels in the Mariposa Club series, the novel Crossing Vines, the story collection Men Without Bliss, and three books of nonfiction, including Autobiography of My Hungers and Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He also edited Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing and Alurista's new and selected volume Xicano Duende: A Select Anthology. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships, a NYFA grant in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, he is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine and writes a monthly column for NBC-Latino online. Currently, he is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, and the inaugural Stan Rubin Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Rainier Writing Workshop. In 2015, he received The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Publishing Triangle. As of 2016, he serves as critic-at-large with the L.A. Times and sits on the Board of Trustees of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). Since 2016 he has served as critic-at-large with the L.A. Times and on the Board of Trustees of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

González also led a Craft Class and met with students and others on Monday afternoon. His 5pm reading and talk were be followed by a book-signing. 

This year’s Reid events were made possible through the generosity of Kenneth and Frances K. Reid and the sponsorship of the Fordham English and African & African American Studies departments, the Graduate Student Association, and the Creative Writing Program.