Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Conversation with Ian Frazier

Acclaimed author Ian Frazier - New Yorker writer for decades and author of many books including Great Plains, On the Rez, and his memoir Family - is here at DePauw for two weeks as a visiting distinguished professor of creative writing and writer-in-residence. Last night I organized an event out at the Prindle Institute as part of our year-long series of events built around the theme of "the ethics of life writing." For an hour, Ian sat with me and my colleague from creative writing Peter Graham by the Prindle fireplace to field questions about the ethical challenges involved in writing about one's own family.

He said that his family had saved so much memorabilia from their lives together - everything from huge quantities of letters to old pieces of farm equipment - that he had the sense that they wanted, or at least expected, that he would do something with it. He said that he writes only about what he loves, and that when you're writing from love, that love is going to illuminate what you write and usually ends up making others feel glad that their lives were recorded in that way. He said that the high school girlfriend whom he wrote about in one chapter had her lawyer (!) ensure that she read not only the parts about her, but the whole entire book, before giving it her blessing. He said that a writer has to balance the importance of some episode or observation to the book as a whole against the possible pain it might cause to those depicted in it. He said that he wrote about his recently deceased parents with the goal of restoring to them what they had lost in their late-life decline, and to give their lives meaning.

It was a wonderful hour of discussion - he's not only wise, but hilariously funny - and well attended, too (perhaps 65 people in the audience, from the community as well as from the campus). The little sandwiches I ordered from Treasures on the Square were very tasty. The predicted snow didn't materialize until people were safely home. Altogether, a most successful evening!

No comments:

Post a Comment