Tag Archives: essays

Author Insight: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s name is one that almost everyone knows, English major or not,
as he was one of the first individuals to promote Transcendentalism and very openly go against the grain of society’s norms. He wrote many essays throughout his years, detailing his thoughts on the importance of embracing nature and being self-reliant, and he is still considered one of the greatest scholars in history. This is not only due to his way with words, but also to his willingness to stand out and promote thoughts that were typically not accepted or popular during his time.

In ​The American Scholar, Emerson states, “Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.” Putting the patriarchal language aside, this line tends to strike a chord with the reader– especially one interested in writing their own pieces– as it still very much applies to anyone who aspires to get their work published.

As we discover new authors and ideas as well as look back on the classics, we tend to forget that they were once in our shoes, striving to get their thoughts down on the page and convey some sort of meaning to others. Although their legacies have grown to seem insurmountable, they were all once where we are. This is very important to realize today, especially for younger writers who feel as though they could never measure up to other well known figures, both past and current.

Similarly, Emerson believed that we must discover the world for ourselves and not rely
on the words and experiments of others as our only resource for knowledge. Instead, we should supplement our lives with the work of others, but still rely only on ourselves and our abilities. If we focus too heavily on others’ efforts, we fail ourselves. This holds true in today’s society, as we study famous works such as Emerson’s to expand our minds and knowledge, but we do not accept them as the single truth of the world. Instead, we use them as inspiration and guidance as we continue moving forward and discovering.

Emerson’s message is definitely one that aspiring writers should pay attention to,
especially those in college who are surrounded by peers who have the same ambitions as they do. It is easy to get caught up in insecurities and to have doubts about your abilities, but the most important thing to remember is that we all have original thoughts and ideas, and we should use them as we see fit. Just as Emerson did with his works, we take risks by putting our thoughts out into the world, especially if they differ from what society would consider normal or proper, and having the courage to do so is something he would likely admire and encourage.

 

by Megan Corkery

 

Author Carmen Maria Machado engages audience at short story reading in Philadelphia

On Friday Feb. 9, author Carmen Maria Machado gave a reading at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia. The second floor of the store was packed with other writers, admirers of her work, and even people who had never read her work, but had heard amazing things about it, such as myself. She read from her debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, which was published last year and has already gained many awards including the Bard Fiction Prize, the John Leonard Prize, and the Crawford Award. The collection was also a finalist for National Book Award, among others.GOOD20180209_192756(0)

At the front of the room, Machado announced that she’d be reading an excerpt from the story “Inventory.” Having never read her work, I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly did not expect to hear a series of detailed sexual encounters amidst the backdrop of a national pandemic. But I was not disappointed. Machado has perfected the act of de-familiarizing her readers while keeping them wholly engaged. The first story in the collection, “The Husband Stitch,” humanizes and modernizes an old folk tale. “Especially Heinous,” the longest story in the collection, is, as she put it, basically a fanfiction of “Law and Order: SVU.”

What I love most about this book is that it uses various styles to explore themes that are sometimes overlooked in literature, such as the intimate moments of women’s lives, their bodies and the violence enacted upon them, and the queer experience.

After listening to Machado read from her collection, I understand why she is a rising star in the literary world. Do yourself a favor and pick up Her Body and Other Parties, or at least check out her website where you can read some of her many published pieces of fiction, essays, and interviews.

by Jennifer Rohrbach

Moore, please!

Dinty W. Moore recently visited Widener’s campus as part of the Distinguished Writers Series. Throughout the week he met with students who have been reading his creative nonfiction books and essays in class and a shared a few selections from his new book, Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, at a public reading on Wednesday. As a published author who has taught creative writing at multiple universities and has been writing for over 30 years, Moore had a lot of insightful advice for aspiring writers, which he generously shared:

1. What’s important about writers is what they say

Every writer has their own voice, “which is going to be different from any other voice,” said Moore. “That is something that can’t be taught. That we have to discover.” He also emphasized the importance of trial and error and repetition for a writer. “Your first draft is you wandering around the page trying to figure out what’s going on.” For him, the first few drafts are the hardest parts of the writing process. He writes the first draft of a book or essay solely to help him figure out what he is trying to say. Only during later drafts, when he understands what needs to be said, does he writes with the reader in mind.

2. You need curiosity to be a writer

To truly discover your own voice and figure out what it needs to say, you have to ask questions. “The trick,” he explained, “is not knowing what you want to say, but to be curious. Have questions. Discovery is starting with a question and working the answer out on the page.” Curiosity about a subject is a quality that all good writers have. One debate in the literary world is if creative writing is something that can be taught. Moore believes so. “There’s a lot about writing—including creative writing—that can and should be taught,” he said. “Students take math so they understand a little bit more about how mathematics works, and students take science classes to understand how science informs the world,” he said. “I think if you take a writing class, and you don’t end up being a writer, it still opens the mind and lets people see how a certain part of the world works and thinks…You can’t teach creativity, but you can encourage it.”

3. There’s no such thing as writer’s block

“Writer’s block is when you listen to the voices in your head that say you can’t do it,” Moore said. The solution? “Talk back to the voices. Say, ‘I hear you, but I’m going to ignore you and write this now.’”

That’s easier said than done. But in his book, Crafting the Personal Essay, Moore dedicates an entire chapter to the idea of writer’s block and how to push through it. You’ve got to “Expect the Negative Voices” and “Expect a Lousy First Draft” (literally the section headings of this chapter), and realize that “the true definition of writer’s block is when the writer gives up.” You’ve got to keep trying. Which brings us to our next writing tip:

4. Persistence

Moore has a busy life teaching, writing, traveling, and just living in general. In order to make time for his writing, he implements the “ass-in-chair” method; he gets up early in the morning, sits down, and makes himself write for two hours a day. It’s not easy, especially for college students, to make writing a part of our daily schedule. For some who juggle classes, work, and a social life, writing can get pushed to the background. Moore suggests that aspiring writers set goals for themselves. “Maybe watch 6 hours of football on the weekend instead of 10,” he joked. But he is right; schedule some time to sit down and focus on your writing. Make it a priority.

Another piece of advice Moore offered is to make a lot of mistakes. “Write a lot of failed poems or failed stories,” he said. “You learn the most from trial and error. It’s like trying to learn how to play tennis. You get out there and swat at the ball and make a total fool of yourself. If you do that for two or three days, you won’t become a wonderful tennis player, but you’ll start to get a little bit of control. Eventually you’ll hit something that goes straight over the net. If you practice long enough you may not become Serena Williams, but you’ll be able to play tennis, and as wonderful and mysterious as the art of literature is, writing is kind of the same.”

If you’re craving Moore, be sure to check out Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals, Moore’s newest book of and on essay writing, available now.

Written by Jennifer Rohrbach