LRU Visiting Writers Series: Nadia Bolz-Weber

On Thursday, March 5th, I was able to experience something completely new to me. I listened to a talk from a pastor who spoke in a way I had never heard a pastor or religiously orientated speaker speak before. This pastor was Nadia Bolz-Weber, and she was speaking as part of the Lenoir-Rhyne Visiting Writers Series. For more information on the series follow this link

Bolz-Weber’s standing as a religious figure separated her from the previous visiting writers. She not only wrote, but she is also a pastor for a church that she set up herself. From the talk, I got a distinct impression of her. There is a deep amount of respect that I hold for her, due to the things she has come through in life in order to get to where she is today. However, I was also slightly taken aback by some of the vocabulary she used. Perhaps this was because I had never heard anything near these words from such an authoritative religious figure.

What was truly memorable though was her writing. When she began to discuss and explain her work it was like nothing I had read or heard before. Bolz-Weber writes with a freedom I have never come across. She tells the truth, maybe this is why her writing is so free, as she doesn’t hold anything back. In a strange way it was almost like she was proud of what she had been through. When discussing her writing in her book “Pastrix” she mentioned a scene where the penny dropped for her that she was with the right people to help get her out of the awful situation she found herself in. Using dialogue she achieved this, and the fact that she remembered so well the line, “you’ll get used to that,” shows how vividly this whole episode was still in her mind. I would say I found her writing liberating. She speaks the truth, there is nothing made up and everything written has a purpose, the genuine feel to her work is something I will take away and try to incorporate into my work in the future.


The Hedgehog and the Metaphor

Last Thursday it was with great disappointment that I learned that Paul Muldoon would not be speaking at Lenoir-Rhyne University due to inclement weather. He was scheduled to speak as part of the Visiting Writers Series program which the University runs throughout the year. For more information on the upcoming visiting writers follow this link

I had looked forward to hearing Muldoon speak as I had heard many good things about him but it was not meant to be. The next class session we had enabled us to read and analyse Muldoon’s poem “Hedgehog”. At first I was puzzled, confused at the poem. The arrangement, the reasoning, the language choices, all of this took some time for me to process. But after rereading the poem and discussing it as a class, I began to see the poem in a different light. I don’t believe that this poem was intended to be interpreted with ease. It is not written for the purpose of a straight-forward obvious poetry. Instead it encourages deep thought. It encourages the reader to reflect and consider what is really being said. This technique is fantastic. Muldoon very cleverly makes the poem memorable and almost challenges the reader. This challenge drives a response from the reader who wants to prove their ability to understand and overcome challenges that they are faced with.

The part of the poem that stood out to me the most was the final stanza. The metaphor used here is very powerful. Muldoon chooses something that is in no way related to a hedgehog by choosing God. This is clever, it is the final twist to the poem and the symbolic nature of this metaphor leaves the reader with a thought that they did not see coming. The crown of thorns represents the prickles that a hedgehog possesses and yet it stands for so much more when taken in another context: Christianity. To finish the poem with such a strong and meaningful metaphor adds value, intrigue, and most importantly, a purpose to the whole poem. This is something I may look into when I write my poetry piece for class that is due next week.

On reflection, it may be that the fateful snow which caused the cancellation of Muldoon’s visit, might have enabled me to take so much more from him and his work moving forward. The analysing of this one poem has given me new ideas and that is the best thing I could have hoped for.

LRU Visiting Writers Series: Katherine Howe

Recently I was able to attend an evening with Katherine Howe at Lenoir Rhyne University. This was part of the on-going series that the university runs where different award-winning writers will come and speak. For more information on the Lenoir Rhyne Visiting Writers Series follow this link

After attending the evening with Jesmyn Ward not so long ago, I was eagerly awaiting the chance to go and hear what Katherine Howe had to say. The evening did not disappoint. Howe is a very different writer to Ward and this was something I noticed from the outset. As opposed to the feeling and emotion behind Ward’s work, Howe seemed to show that her work came purely from a keen interest from herself. She writes historical fiction, and most of her work is centred around witches. Living in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Howe has always had the lure of the witch trials of Salem, the neighbouring town, to inspire her work. The history surrounding the area was something she repeatedly mentioned that drew her in before enabling her to write in a genre which is undoubtedly tough to enter.

There are two major points that I will take from the evening with Howe. Firstly, using the surrounding areas and the history within them to allow the imaginative thoughts to flow freely. This allows for ideas to constantly be of presence whenever and wherever Howe might come up with them. Using the surrounding areas as inspiration is brilliant and something I will look to incorporate into my future writing. If the ideas dry up, a simple walk around the block might spark something wonderful and new inside my head, equally a chat with a local or even a drive to the shop. The second point I will take away from this is the difficulty in writing historical fiction. There has to be an element of truth there in order to conform with history and this makes it very difficult to go all out with the fictional ideas. Finding the balance is key. The conclusion I came up with after hearing Howe speak, was that basing historical fiction off of a true story, before adding fictional details and storylines, might just be the best way to do it. Hearing her speak and reading some of her work has inspired me to take on the challenge that is historical fiction.

LRU Visting Writers Series: Jesmyn Ward

I recently went to an evening with Jesmyn Ward at Lenoir Rhyne University as part of the Lenoir Rhyne Visiting Writers Series. For more information on this series you can view the webpage online at Hearing Jesmyn Ward read two separate passages from two of her books, gave me a full understanding and feeling as to how she puts pen to paper and words to stories. This is an incredible woman who has been through an awful lot in life. Without hearing anything else of what she had to say, I could tell how deep and meaningful the stories are to her. The anguish on her face as she began to read a passage from her third work, Men We Reaped, followed by the occasional pause to catch both her rhythm and composure, spoke volumes as to the meaning and significance the memoir has. It is clear that she uses what she knows, what she has seen, what she has felt, and what she has been a part of throughout her life as inspiration and guidance for her writing. This element of first-hand experience is what I believe sets these works apart from others. Ward is aiming to tell her story and the story of her community to the wider world. To see such a driven, motivated, strong character tell her story after all she has been through is truly inspiring. I want to finish with a quote she used regarding the purpose behind her second book, Salvage The Bones. Based on her experiences, this is a tale of epic proportions. Through disaster comes hope. Hope was the purpose of the book – a staggering outlook on life given the atrocities that Ward went through. The quote she used to justify this message of hope: “Hope, to avoid a feeling of demoralisation that horror would bring.” She knows horror. She knows hope. She knows the message she wanted to get across. The depth behind this story is staggering, the detail involved is genuine, and the reality all to real, but I believe that is what makes her the writer she is.