Author Mary Gaitskill visited Wilson Auditorium on March 12 to give a reading and speak about her writing process.
Gaitskill has written three novels as well as various short stories and essays. She has received much praise for her work, including nominations for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award. One of her short stories, “Secretary,” was even turned into a film of the same title with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. With a career spanning over twenty years, the author had plenty to share with the audience about her experiences.
Assistant Professor of English, Josh Emmons, introduced Gaitskill with a quote from Joyce Carol Oates: “Art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” Gaitskill’s work tends to be anything but comforting.
Although she is well-known for her fiction, Gaitskill decided to read a long passage from an unpublished nonfiction essay called “Lost Cat.” The essay compares the loss of Gaitskill’s cat to the loss of her foster child. Gaitskill wonders who decides what is tragic. Who is to say that the cat, who was with her for years, is less important than the child she was with for only months?
This is the kind of depth that is typical of Gaitskill’s work, but do not expect to be drowned in a pool of sorrow. Gaitskill’s writing is diverse. When speaking of her cat, she said, “I liked Chance as I liked all kittens. He liked me as a food dispenser.” However, she also went on to analyze the emotions of cats. “An animal can receive love far more easily than a human,” she read. Gaitskill provides balance between the serious and lighthearted that makes her writing enthralling.
Plenty of students and professors attended the event. Dr. Heather Brown, an English professor, said, “Well, I always come to Visiting Writers [events] if I can. They consistently deliver in terms of the quality of the writers.” This event was no different for Brown. She added, “I thought that it was both a really beautifully crafted piece of nonfiction prose, and also, expertly read by her in her delivery.”
Brown did not require but encouraged students in her Introduction to Literary Studies class to attend. “I’m encouraging students to attend these events so that they can get exposed to what it means to focus on the written word and to engage with language in its aesthetic value,” Brown said.
Courtney Luk, senior English major, attended for extra credit in multiple classes. One of her professors had incorporated Gaitskill’s first collection of short stories into the curriculum. “In my Advanced Creative Writing Seminar with Professor Emmons, we just finished reading ‘Bad Behavior’ by Gaitskill, so it was a great tie in. It was nice to match a name to the work.”
Despite attending for extra credit, Luk does genuinely enjoy the Visiting Writers series. “I’ve been to three this academic year. It’s a great program that promotes literature and public readings with writers outside of Monmouth.”
Plenty of students were there at the behest of their teachers. Shauna McArdle, English major, also attended as extra credit for her Contemporary American Literature class. The senior did not expect to be so entertained. McArdle said, “I’m not going to lie, I thought I was going to be really bored. But it was really interesting and different from what we read in class. So yeah, I really enjoyed it actually.”
Brown pointed out that the event is very different from reading literature. “It’s not just about reading it. When you hear it, when you are in a room full of people who are dedicated to the act of receiving it from the person who wrote it, I think that’s a powerful thing. I think there’s community in that that you don’t always get when it’s you and your book.”
The next Visiting Writer event will be with Pulitzer Prize winner C.K. Williams on April 4 at 4:30 pm in Wilson Auditorium.
IMAGE TAKEN from orlandosentinel.com