Tag Archives: alumni

Bulletin: Emma Straub OC’02 to read at Oberlin

2 May

The Creative Writing Department recently announced they will be hosting a reading by alum Emma Straub, who is the author of several articles of nonfiction, short stories appearing in numerous literary magazines, and most recently, The Other People We Married, a collection of short stories.  Straub will read from her new collection from 4:45 to roughly 6pm on Thursday, May 5th (my birthday…) in Wilder 101.

Alex Shephard (also an OC alum) interviewed Straub over at full-stop.net, which I should have included in this week’s words of the week!

Happy May!

Positively Ninety is a Positive Force

23 Mar

Positively Ninety

A chemistry professor, an avid traveler, a budding novelist, a family-chronicler, a devoted couple, a passionate gardener, a man who swam the Ohio River and twenty-one others: all of them vigorous, active, driven, all of them ninety years old, some of them, older.  This is the cast of very real characters that populate OC alum Connie Springer’s recent book, Positively Ninety: Interviews with Lively Nonagenarians.

The project, which was funded by a two-year City of Cincinnati Individual Artist Grant, combines journalism and photography to celebrate the wrinkles, smiles, and longevity of this exceptional group of elderly folk.  In her introduction, Springer provides a framework for the project, “My personal experience with aging had been less than positive.  Over a decade ago my mother, in her eighties and saddled with dementia, lived in a nursing home surrounded by peers with vacant stares and immobile stances…. I needed a different perspective.”  Springer began by interviewing a friend’s neighbor, ninety-one year old gardener June Edwards.  Inspired by June’s joie de vivre, Springer decided to turn the single interview into a full-fledged project.

The grant initially called for a public display, and in book form the concept retains much of the sparseness and accessibility I imagine would have inhabited the exhibit.  The photographs and the voices of the individuals are at the heart of this book, and it reads as a pure artist’s rendering.  Springer mixes mediums to offer her audience a richer story, while still allowing glimpses into the untold portions of her subjects’ pasts.  After finishing Positively Ninety, I felt a compelling desire to phone my own grandparents and to learn about their personal histories and life outlooks.  The conversation between generations is one the work freely engages in, and I find this to be one of its strongest points.

In addition to commenting on individual lives, the material also tells a story about community.  As we meet each of the nonagenarians Springer interviewed, we are also introduced to the children, spouses, neighbors, friends, places, and pastimes that have enriched and informed their ninety+ years of life.  As part of her work, Springer identified twenty common personality traits of her lively nonagenarians, many of which drew on the sense of community that both inspired and now carries the work.  Among these were being open to meeting new people, relating to younger people, being connected to friends and family, and involvement in enjoyable activities.

The combined effect is a work that is both uplifting and enlightening, a gentle reminder of the many invaluable and fascinating individuals often ignored by our society.  By allowing the voices of her subjects to render lifelike instead of probing or preaching her own agenda, Springer captures a distinct treasure-trove.  She concludes her introduction, and in many ways her quest for resolution, with this thought: “One thing is certain: from meeting these lively nonagenarians, I know now that the notion that time must inevitably inflict incapacity and despair is fundamentally wrong.”  Positively Ninety is a thoughtful book, as vital and vigorous as the generation it serves.

Where are the alumni blogs? (Don’t these people want me to follow them?)

1 Mar

If I’ve noticed anything about writers in general, it’s that they’re an awkward bunch.  This is probably the result of too much time spent in front of a computer or spiral notebook—some kind of social blindness (like snow-blindness) that comes from staring at blank pages for hours and conversing with fictional characters in one’s head.  J.D. Salinger comes to mind as the poster boy of the reclusive writer, perhaps because of recent buzz around the release of private letters that reminded us all how very little we knew about the author’s personal life.  You know a man is a hermit when the discovery of his certain penchant for BK Whoppers and Tim Henman is front-page news.  Just saying.

                The strange neuroses that plague famous writers unfortunately also afflict non-famous writers as well—unfortunately because if you’ve ever taken an undergraduate creative writing workshop you know what I mean.  [TANGENT: If you haven’t taken a workshop, or you simply aren’t convinced, imagine twelve sets of eyes pinned on you as you read aloud something you wrote last night in a sleep-deluded panic, then imagine you can’t remember what you wrote and are stumbling over your words, and after you finish reading someone asks you to pass the tin of peanuts which has unfortunately settled on your desk (whose IDEA was it to eat food during workshops anyway?  Grease all over the papers, and that one kid in the corner who talks and munches simultaneously, gross.)  Needless to say you knock the peanuts over, two people bump heads trying to clean them up, and the next one.point five hours is spent talking about someone’s fictional rendering of a sex scene when it is very obvious nobody in the room has ever had sex at all.]

                POINT BEING: Writers are a little strange and a lot terrible at small talk, with the exception of George Saunders and David Sedaris, who I imagine are actually quite funny and engaging.  I would think that the whole blogging experience would suit the other three-gajillion less-funny and far-more-awkward writers nicely.  A sort of crutch for the socially dysfunctional, if you will.  It certainly eliminates the need for face-to-face conversation.  But for some reason I can’t find a single blog maintained by an Oberlin writing alumni (except this awesome one).  Perhaps this is simply an indication of my lack of search-engine skills, but I’d rather point it at some larger failing of writer-kind…where are the blogs faithful Obies?  Don’t you want me to follow you?!

❤ Ariel