Mary Higgins Clark

Fordham Welcomes 2017 Mary Higgins Clark Chair, A.S. King

On October 2nd, the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program celebrated the Mary Higgins Clark Chair in Creative Writing and Fordham LitFest 2017.

Preceding this year’s Mary Higgins Clark chair address by celebrated surrealist YA author A.S. King, English majors, minor, and prospective majors gathered in McNally Amphitheater for LitFest 2017. A celebration of the discipline of literary study and excellence in writing, LitFest gave students the opportunity to learn about the value of the English major from department faculty, enjoy the premiere of the new English department short film Real Talk: Fordham English Alums starring recent English major graduates, and discuss literary and professional interests within specialized caucuses. 

Student gather in the Publishing Caucus to discuss building a portfolio, pitching to editors, and becoming a self-disciplined writer

Student gather in the Publishing Caucus to discuss building a portfolio, pitching to editors, and becoming a self-disciplined writer

 

At the conclusion of LitFest, King, took to the stage to deliver her address, titled “Writing Novels - Trust the Process, Work Often, Die Happy.” King’s address focused on her spontaneous writing process known as pantsing.

Pantsing, explained King, is the process of writing without an outline—diving right into a story without knowing where it will lead. For King, this writing begins with a character: “My characters tell me things, and I listen.”

This method seems like a crazy approach to writing a novel, and it is, King promised. She admitted her dive-right-in process requires trust in a way plotted writing does not. "I trust in a very untrustworthy world,” she explained. “I always have, and I always will. That's why I write the way I do.”

“You write the best book you possibly can, and then you write another one. And then you write another one. Repeat.”

“You write the best book you possibly can, and then you write another one. And then you write another one. Repeat.”

 

The author also discussed her challenges as a woman writing in a predominantly male genre. “As a surrealist writer, being female isn’t always a picnic,” confessed King. She reflected on years of being mislabeled by publishers, undervalued, and rejected for being too strange or not romantic enough for a female writer: “Apparently my work wouldn’t be as hard to shelve if I thought like women are supposed to think, as if the marriage of my brain and my hands is somehow rerouted through my glands.”

After fifteen years of rejection, King was finally published. Though praise has followed, King insists financial success and glory have never been her motivators. “This is a hard business, but the goal is ultimately to write more books, to make more art, to stay focused on what’s important, to continue to meet my own goals, to reach out," she explained. "And encourage people to share their stories too—that’s a big one.”

King's advice to young writers in the audience was simple: make writing a priority. "I am always writing," said King. "Writing makes me happy," she explained. "I’m a better mother, a better friend, a better writer, and a better person when I’m happy."

Write often, encouraged the celebrated author. Pantsing is one way to do it, said King, but it doesn't work for everyone. "No one writes a book the same way as anybody else," she maintained. "Find what works for you, and write."

King closed her address by revealing what inspires her: “I want to give people a part of myself. I want to write books that come to me. I want to help other people." She put it simply: "That’s what makes me happy.”

FCLC '19 Cat Reynolds presents FCLC '79 Mary Higgins Clark with a gift from Fordham University.

FCLC '19 Cat Reynolds presents FCLC '79 Mary Higgins Clark with a gift from Fordham University.

“Queen of Suspense” and graduate of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, Class of 1979, Mary Higgins Clark took to the stage after King, and praised King for her inspiring and entertaining address. The bestselling author especially identified with the joy King found in proving her critics wrong. She reflected on a particularly harsh rejection slip: “It read, ‘Mrs. Clark, your stories are light, slight, and trite,’ and I thought, ‘I’ll show you,’ and I did.” 

“You’ve proved them right fifty-seven times now, correct?” asked Fordham’s president Father McShane upon the event’s closing. “That’s how many novels you’ve written?” Clark nodded. McShane ended the evening with expressing his gratitude for Mary Higgins Clark and her generosity towards Fordham University, as well as his gratitude for King: “You have liberated some minds in here tonight with your words, and for that we are grateful.”

[To see the Fordham News story on this event, click here. Their story includes even more fun photos!]

Audience members have their books signed by A.S. King and Mary Higgins Clark following the address. 

Audience members have their books signed by A.S. King and Mary Higgins Clark following the address. 

 

 

Join the Blackboard Book Group on A.S. King's *Ask the Passengers*

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Looking for some good reading to share and talk about with others? Read Ask the Passengers, a work of Young Adult fiction by acclaimed writer A..S. King. She'll be visiting Fordham the week of October 2, 2017 as the Mary Higgins Clark Chair to give a reading and lead workshops. Professors Stacey D'Erasmo and Glenn Hendler are leading a loose, open, summer-long book group with this book on Blackboard, and we'd love for you to join in. 

  • First: buy the book and start reading it
    • Then: log into Blackboard.
    • If you're an English major, you're already enrolled in the "Ask the Passengers Book Group." Just log in to Blackboard, click on "Organizations," and you'll see the name of the group. 

There are at least three ways to participate:

  1. Talk. Go to the discussion board and you can either respond to one of the questions there or start a discussion thread of your own.
  2. Write. Go to "Letters to Passengers" and you can join the novel's main character, Astrid Jones, by writing something to anonymous passengers in airplanes (or the subway or bus or in cars on the highway....it won't make sense until you've started reading the book, but then you'll see what we mean).
  3. Read. Click on "interesting stuff" and read some of the web links and documents posted there. We'll keep adding more over the course of the summer. And you can suggest items to be added, too!

Also: invite your friends to join the group (even if they're not English majors)! Anyone with a fordham.edu e-mail address can join the discussion by going to http://bit.ly/2017FordhamEnglishBookGroup. You can also go in to Blackboard to adjust your notifications so that you get e-mails whenever others post...or so you don't. 

The Backstory

Celebrated author Mary Higgins Clark, a Fordham alum, recently endowed a visiting professorship in creative writing, the Mary Higgins Clark Chair, which will bring to campus a distinguished writer who will do a public reading as well as lead workshops, seminars, and master classes. To honor Mary Higgins Clark's storied career as a writer of genre fiction, the English department is inviting writers who work in popular genres as our first Clark chairs. 

So, A.S. King will be visiting Fordham the week of October 2, 2017, as this year's Mary Higgins Clark Chair. A.S. King has been called “One of the best Y.A. writers working today” by the New York Times Book Review. King is the author of highly-acclaimed novels including her 2016 release Still Life with Tornado, 2015’s surrealist I Crawl Through It, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, Reality Boy, the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Ask the Passengers, Everybody Sees the Ants, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz among others. She is a faculty member of the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and spends many months of the year traveling the country speaking to high school students. After fifteen years living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives in Pennsylvania.

Mary Higgins Clark Endows Creative Writing Chair

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Celebrated author Mary Higgins Clark has endowed a visiting professorship in Creative Writing.  The Mary Higgins Clark Chair in Creative Writing will bring a distinguished  author, who will lead workshops, seminars and master classes, to the Fordham community.  For more details see the story in Inside Fordham

The English Department and Creative Writing Program at Fordham are deeply grateful to Mary Higgins Clark (FCLC '79) for this gift of great generosity.