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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Not every fiction author is available to come to New Brunswick for Rutgers University’s “Writers at Rutgers” series.
But Rutgers University Creative Writing Professor Alex Dawson has created an alternate solution – instead of bringing the authors to Rutgers, bring Rutgers to the writers.
Professor Dawson’s series, entitled “Inside the Writers House,” hosts video call discussions with authors in their “homes, offices, and writing rooms,” according to the official event description.
Working with the Writers House learning community, Professor Dawson’s program is intended to be informal and relaxed – conversations are fluid, dynamic, and can go in virtually any direction once the discussion begins.
Each meeting takes place over Skype video call, with free pizza and beverages provided in the Plangere Writing Center’s Culture Lab.
The series is open to both the Rutgers community and the general public, and audience members are invited to ask questions to authors after the initial conversation hosted by Dawson.
On November 3, Professor Dawson and Writers House invited Iranian-American author Porochista Khakpour, author of the highly praised 2008 novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects, to talk about her experiences as a fiction writer and essayist.
The event began at 7:45 PM, and was standing room only, with over fifty attendees in the Culture Lab.
During her video call with Professor Dawson, Khakpour discussed her experiences writing non-fictional essays for The New York Times, as an Iranian-American reflecting on post-9/11 American culture.
The daughter of two Iranian immigrants fleeing from the 1979 revolution, Khakpour grew up in a lower-middle-class household in the Los Angeles area.
As a child, Khakpour motivated herself to read extensively, and share stories with her family members.
Storytelling came naturally to Porochista Khakpour, as she decided from an early age that she wanted to be a writer and a novelist.
Khakpour’s latest novel, The Last Illusion, is based around a young adolescent boy’s attempt to integrate into everyday New York City life after growing up in a family of birds.
The 2014 novel, released in May to critical acclaim, features a mix of Persian myth and contemporary life, and deals with themes of isolation, illusion, and storytelling in the early days of the 2000’s, prior to 9/11.
Referencing her own experiences with reading, and her time living in New York City during her youth, Khakpour encouraged her attendees to be open to exploration with their work.
She also warned young writers not to worry about finding their literary voice – she stressed that growth, self-discovery, and practice led to better writing, and that inspiration could come from any source.
Professor Dawson notes that his series strives to pick authors who are not only accomplished writers, but who are honest and inspirational.
“It’s the earthiness of these conversations,” Dawson said, “that I think is most inspiring.”
“One of the goals of this series… is to humanize the ‘big’ author,” Dawson notes. “In showing that the successful author is approachable, even regular, I hope to make the occupation of Author, the notion of literary success, feel a bit less fanciful.”
“Inside the Writer’s House” continues throughout the Fall semester, with author Emma Straub joining Professor Dawson on Monday, December 8, at 7:45 PM in the Plangere Culture Lab.
Dawson’s series will return in 2015, with best-selling author and TIME Magazine head book critic Lev Grossman joining the series, as well as New Yorker staff writer and author Susan Orlean.
Writers House is a Rutgers University learning community dedicated to “the experience of creativity and serves as a laboratory for developing expression in all the media of the twenty-first century,” according to the House’s official website.
The creative learning community is located on the first floor of Murray Hall, in Room #035.