After nearly three weeks of waiting, we finally found out who the winners of the English Department Writing Prizes were today. And by golly, I’m one of them. I won first place for a short story I wrote for my flash fiction class entitled “Lobster Boy,” and the Academy of American Poets Award for a poem I wrote for my Independent Study, “Lightning Words.” And I won cash prizes for both, which is awesome and probably the first time I’ve ever been paid for writing something. I am very excited. (Now I need to get my act together and start submitting to literary magazines.)
With this money, however, comes the expectation that we will read our winning pieces to a group of professors and students at an event held by the department. This is where I get less excited. I’ve actually already read “Lobster Boy” to a group of probably 30 or 40 people (students and professors). We all had to read for our flash fiction class. It was pretty painless, but I am not a fan of doing readings. I used to be in Speech and Debate in high school, so you’d think I’d be better at it, but the thing here is that I have to read pieces I wrote. I could get up and read you something I didn’t read (like a humor piece, like I did for two years in Speech and Debate [I was not a debater]), but reading a piece that I wrote makes me feel so nervous and judged and unworthy. Clearly I must be a decent writer, given that I won some prizes, but I’m nevertheless nervous about it.
The thing about poetry and creative writing, at least to me, is that I write it to be read, not necessarily to be read out loud. If I’m reading it out loud, I’m sure it’s much more awkward than the text on the page is. Does it make it better that in my head I know how things should sound if when I say them they don’t sound like that at all? There are lots of arguments for public readings, and against, and I think I side with the against, at least with my own writing. I know there are plenty of people who are great readers, but I don’t think I’m one of them.
Obviously the only choice is to become a famous writer and get a ton of practice.
Here’s to my future fame!
(Just kidding. I don’t want to be famous. Writing is cool, though.)
Thanks to the internet (and a slow shift at work), I just read David Foster Wallace’s short story, “Backbone,” on the New Yorker’s website. You should, too.
Author: David Foster Wallace
Spoiler-free Opinions: I hadn’t read anything by David Foster Wallace before, but had heard great things. “Backbone” is about a young boy whose goal was to be able to “press his lips to every square inch of his own body.” The short story takes the reader through his journey to do so while exploring his relation to the world and with his father, whose story (in less detail) is presented as well. The boy seems almost monk-like and other-worldly in his meditation and dedication to stretching and increasing his flexibility, and the impossibility of the task he has put before himself, combined with the desperate search of his father (the nature of which I will not spoil), gives the story an almost magical-realism feel, despite their feats and goals not actually requiring any sort of magic or fantasy. Reality, like the boy’s spine, is stretched and made more flexible. Wallace’s way with words is lovely and at times scientific, and the movement from the boy’s story to his father’s to the outside world artfully and thoughtfully done. I would certainly recommend it and plan to read more of his short stories. From what I hear, his nonfiction is also a good read.
Favorite (spoiler-free) Quotes:
“Dr. Kathy had reading glasses on a cord around her neck and a green button-up sweater that looked as if it were made entirely of pollen.”
“His place in most people’s mental albums was provisional, with something like a dotted line around it—the image of someone saying something friendly over his shoulder as he heads for an exit.”
“Insights into or conceptions of his own physical “inaccessibility” to himself (as we are all of us self-inaccessible and can, for example, touch parts of one another in ways that we could not even dream of touching our own bodies) or of his complete determination, apparently, to pierce that veil of inaccessibility—to be, in some childish way, self-contained and -sufficient—these were beyond his conscious awareness. He was, after all, just a little boy.”
Stars: 4.5. The science-y/anatomy words can be a bit much at times, but this is a great story and you should read it. Right now. Do it.