Presented by Stanford Continuing Studies, five faculty writers from the Writer’s Studio program read aloud sections from past or developing pieces at Monday’s Writers’ Showcase. The presented works included poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction, and each writer provided a brief yet provocative glimpse into his or her work.
The first author on stage was Peter Kline, a Stegner Fellow in poetry, reading five poems, including “Consent,” “Protagonist” and “No Place.” He opened with a poem written as a response to a Robert Frost poem, in which he conveyed the process of visualization. His standout poem “No Place” repeated and reanimated the word “green,” and after 10 repetitions, the word seemed entirely reborn.
The next speaker was San Francisco native Malena Watrous, a published novelist, a book reviewer for The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle and a Stegner Fellow. She read a selection from her most recent novel, “If You Follow Me,” a story about two girls venturing into an eccentric Japanese town. Her protagonist, an American girl named Marie, had no idea how to throw away her trash, and her impatient neighbors sent their morbidly obese son to do it for her. The account was humorous and yet emotionally charged, as the audience felt the obvious distance the protagonist felt from her surroundings.
Next on stage was Rusty Dolleman, a Stegner Fellow in fiction with a master’s in English. Dolleman’s excerpt from his working novel explored the psychological tensions in revolutionary militia groups in a small Iraqi town. His reading followed one of the members of the group, Tanner, and his plan to enact revenge on Linda, a cold, domineering woman. We got a glimpse into the psyche of Tanner, a man frustrated by a careless government and his own father’s struggles with poverty.
The following reader also focused on political turmoil in the Middle East. Chanan Tigay, an award-winning journalist, read a creative non-fiction piece about his experiences in Israel. He described in vivid detail what it felt like to drive along the Israeli border, to see the violence that occurs. He was interested in Israeli-Arabs, and he wondered whether Lebanese soldiers on the opposite side of the border would feel guilt over killing an Israeli-Arab. No, he concluded, because they are considered traitors. His readings were tense but still humorous at times, the heavy interviews lightened by flashes of humanizing comedy.
Another Stegner Fellow graced the stage for the final reading, this time fiction writer Ammii Keller. Her short piece imagined a young girl’s experience during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with the protagonist roaming the dark aisles of a broken down Walmart. The descriptions were jarring – packaged goods littering the floors, lost souls wandering the aisles and a permeating sense of desperation. The girl eventually wandered into the pharmaceutical back room, where an older man found her and tried to assault her. Each action and description Keller read further amplified the fear felt by the little girl, and by the end of the story, the entire audience was on edge, drained by the weight of the story.
The readings from that night ranged from humorous to intense, from somewhat tragic to full-on heartbreaking. At the end of the evening, one left feeling dazed, confused about the different story threads he or she had just experienced, like being forced through an emotional blender. But while the sampling in one night was draining in some respects, the lasting experience made up for it.