Students filled the Handwerker Gallery Thursday evening for a reading by fiction writer Lydia Davis. Davis was the first of three authors in the writing department’s Fall 2013 Distinguished Visiting Writers series.
The event began with a brief introduction of Davis by Catherine Taylor, associate professor of writing. Davis then gave a reading of her work before a brief question and answer session and a book signing of “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis,” on sale after the event. Most of the work read at the event was from “Can’t and Won’t,” an collection of hers that will be available in the coming spring.
Davis’ wit elicited many laughs throughout the evening, surprising a few members of the audience. Sophomore Logan Weaver had read pieces of Davis’ work in an English class and was surprised at her tone during the reading.
“She makes it a lot funnier,” Weaver said. “I almost interpreted it when I first read it as being somber and dark, but she reads a line that is dark and then she’ll laugh so then you’ll realize she was trying to have a bit of dark humor.”
Several of Davis’ short stories took the descriptive ‘short’ to the logical conclusion, clocking in at a total of one or two sentences total. While not all of the recited works were that short, many of the briefest were the most memorable. Sophomore Christopher Maher, a screenwriting major, said he found the shortness interesting in regards to his studies.
“She does a lot of ‘show, don’t tell,’” Maher said. “It’s very to the point, all action and setting and dialogue.”
The question-and-answer portion of the evening was almost as brief as some of the pieces read. Multiple students stepped forward and asked Davis about her writing process, specifically on how the ideas for the short stories are generated. Davis said the use of names and all writing conventions depends on what the author’s purpose is for the piece. She said she personally does not like the connections naming creates in a story.
In response, Davis said her stories are based rather closely on what she views around her, but she said she would not consider herself a journalist. Sophomore Madeline Gerbig said she found the question-and-answer section enlightening.
“In my English class, we are very picky about [specifics regarding narrators],” Gerbig said. “We assign a lot of meaning to it. It’s interesting to hear a writer’s perspective as opposed to a critic’s perspective.”
Weaver said the event was an excellent experience overall.
“My one friend over the summer told me [Davis] was coming to the college and I got really excited about that,” Weaver said. “It was a cool opportunity to see someone whose work I actually had time to really commit myself to.”