Author Catherine Zobal Dent visited Widener on April 3 and 4 as a part of the English and Creative Writing Department’s Distinguished Writers Series.
In May 2014, Dent published her debut collection of short stories with Fomite Press, called Unfinished Stories for Girls. The collection includes sixteen stories. Taking place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the short stories invite readers inside the lives of characters trying to figure out the problems and challenges of the gleaming, marshy world.
On campus, Dent spent time speaking in creative writing and English classes about her collection, as well as offering insight and advice on how to pursue a writing career. She also individually met with several students within the department for tutorials.
“Writers need other writers. That’s just the way it is,” Victoria Giansante, a senior English major said. “We workshop off each other; we get ideas from each other; and we help each other to be the best we can be. Any writer could benefit from closely analyzing their habits and their strengths, especially with guidance from someone with genuine experience and expertise, like Catherine.”
Dent’s latest projects include writing a novel and a nonfiction book about the Appalachian Trail, as well as a translation of the French short story writer Cyrille Fleicshman with her colleague Lynn Palermo. She began publishing her stories during graduate school and her work has gone on to appear in such publications as Drunken Boat, the Harvard Review, North American Review, Echolocation, PANK and elsewhere.
Currently, Dent is an associate professor of creative writing at Susquehanna University, a position she shares with her partner and fellow writer, Silas Zobal. She is also the director of the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE), a national organization that provides a network for undergraduate student editors, writers, and their faculty advisers.
Dent concluded her visit with a public reading surrounded by art made by Ann Piper, which accompany each story in the collection. After the reading, Dent took time to answer questions, sign copies of her book, and speak to students, including Rohan Suriyage, a junior English and communication studies double major whom Dent offered advice on organizing ideas for a short story.
“I was interested in her passion for exploring the relationship between art and literature, specifically how the art her colleague made coincidentally reflected the subject matter of her short stories,” Suriyage said. “She has a good grasp on including real-life aspects into her stories and encapsulating the human experience and its authenticity in the subject matter of said stories.”
Dent also sat down for an interview with The Blue Route during her visit. The full interview will be featured in our 20th issue set to be published in the next couple of weeks! For a preview of the interview, read below!
How do you create characters, voices, and point of views that are different from your own or different from each other?
I do a lot of research. I think as deeply as you can about the way voices sound different from each other and also the types of preoccupations characters might have. You can have a handful of characters who see the exact same object in the material world and, depending on their emotional state, each of them would describe it in a different way. I try to think of where the characters are coming from in a particular moment in time and find a preoccupation that would dominate their voice. In my collection, I have a number of stories that veer into second person where the narrator is addressing you, the reader. I’ve tried different ways of involving the reader in the work, and one of these attempts is to adapt the readers’ perspective and try to convince them that they are actually in the story. In “The Truth You Know,” I have the first-person narrator addressing the reader and saying, “Now you have to tell the end of the story.”
What drives you to write? Has there been a specific instance or a piece of advice that has driven you in your writing career?
When I’m not writing I don’t feel as alive as when I am writing. When I am writing, I am noticing the world in a much more meaningful way. I’m actively constructing meaning around me. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Sometimes, I feel that way. I can go and recreate an experience in a way that makes more sense or is more satisfying to me. That’s one of the jobs of fiction, to try to create meaning out of chaos. That’s one of the jobs of identity, too, to try to stake, for a temporary period of time, a sense of order in the world. I write to create order in my world and hope to communicate a sense of connection, belonging, and order for other people too.