Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Narrative, the Associative and the Lyrical: Jess Walter, Mary Gaitskill and Dana Levin

Yesterday afternoon, we enjoyed a panel discussion by Jess Walter, Mary Gaitskill and Dana Levin.

Gaitskill spoke about how writing is about language, but that when the writing's great, it takes you to a place beyond and more complicated than language, than a series of events.

For Walter, Levin (in the red sweater) and Gaitskill, there was much concern about how the intuitive meets the rational. The question for Walter (black sweater) is how to tap into and marshal the intuitive when we are a beginning a piece and discovering its shape.

The panel concluded with a kabbalistic story told by Levin in which Moses receives the Ten Commandments. First, God rains down the entire alphabet on moses in letters only. Moses says, I have no idea what you're saying to me! Then, God starts putting the letters together such that Moses can tell that language is being built, but there is still no separation between words. Moses still doesn't get the message. When God adds the gaps between words, Moses starts to understand. Moral: the mystical, mysterious gap has to be part of what is inside the literal communication of the story/essay/poem. Gaps are important. The unformed provides a backdrop for what is available and understandable. What fun!

The afternoon concluded with a super reader by this year's fellowship winners. We heard about Peruvian spiders and psychotherapy, Alaska fisherpeople, Jack and Jill, a girl with blue hair, Aretha Franklin's hat, California peach farming, a relationship on the rocks amid Los Angeles credit cards and coffee shops and poetry derived in part from a weather-themed daily calendar. Fantastic. In the photo at top, Pam Houston reads "Spider Stories" with fellowship winner Patricia C. Smith.

More soon!

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