Living Writers, alive once again

students experience a unique one-on-one course with acclaimed writers of the twenty-first century

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“The right to memoir is intention,” said Amy Kurzweil, the first writer to kick off the long-awaited return for Muhlenberg’s Living Writers series. Living Writers, a course only offered every three years, is a unique opportunity for students to read recent works of contemporary writers and meet the authors for an intimate Q&A and live reading. This course allows students to explore and connect with authors of a wide range of genres, from graphic novels and plays to poetry and fiction novels. 

This year, the course is being led by Associate Professor of English Linda Miller, Associate Professor of English Dawn Longsinger, Ph.D. and Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Gabriel Dean. Miller shared, “For students interested in writing and literature, Living Writers is invaluable. How often do you have the opportunity to ask a writer why and how they write? Or why they chose to place a specific detail in their book? Living Writers allows our students to meet, talk and understand writers—to understand the writing process. The experience can be life-altering.” 

When asked what goes into preparing for a course like this, Longsinger explained, “The selection of Living Writers starts a long time before they come to campus, usually at least a year in advance, and it’s really a conversation within the Creative Writing Program and with the professors teaching the course. We each bring names to the table of authors whose work we’re excited about and/or that we think would make great readers, with an attention to trying to have a diversity of voices, with varying genres, identities and backgrounds and at different stages of their writing careers. This usually generates a mix of people who are truly at the top of their field and some newer authors.”

Thus, the Living Writers course allows students to break down a text and have the unparalleled opportunity to hear directly from the writer about their inspirations, writing practice and more. Alex Caban-Echevarria ‘23, a student enrolled in the course, said, “As an English major, I study a lot of writers that are not present in the discussion and may not even be alive. This class is an extremely rare opportunity in my college career so I wanted to take advantage of it.”

The first author to kick off the course was Amy Kurzweil, cartoonist and writer of the award winning graphic novel, “Flying Couch” (2016). Kurzweil’s previous work has been featured in The New Yorker, The Believer and other publications. “Flying Couch” is a memoir that weaves together the story of three generations of women; Kurzweil, her mother and her grandmother, a World War II survivor. The Q&A, which is only accessible to those enrolled in the course, allowed students to ask Kurzweil questions about a wide range of topics, including publishing inquiries and in-depth questions about the text and her life. 

Sarah Wedeking ‘24 said, “I loved how funny Kurzweil was and how personal she became when talking about herself and her family. I really enjoyed seeing her art style and the different mediums she used to express herself. As a writer and an artist, it was really inspiring to see her so vulnerable through her writing and her art.” This is what the Living Writers course is meant to do: inspire students. Longsinger commented that Kurzweil, “Started the book when she was in college, and I think that should inspire students to take their creative work seriously and understand that something they start while at Muhlenberg could be developed into something publishable in the future.”

 Later in the evening, there was a public live reading, where anyone from the greater Allentown community can come and ask questions. Kurzweil read from “Flying Couch” and previewed her upcoming graphic memoir, “Love: Artificial.” Caban-Echevarria said, “Amy Kurzweil was the first live reading so I didn’t know what to expect. I really enjoyed seeing the graphics projected and hearing her narrate her drawings that didn’t always have captions. It allowed me to appreciate the form more because I saw how each page could hold so much meaning.”

Gabi Hirshfield ‘24 added, “During Kurzweil’s talk something that really stayed with me was her discussion of the Holocaust and the ongoing dialogue that she has witnessed as a descendent of a survivor. Her description of her grandmother’s experience was obviously very striking and I found that hearing her talk about it in person was very powerful.”

Longsinger stated, “Seeing an author read and discuss their work reminds students that books are about humanity and connection [and] that they forge community amid readers. It also reminds students of the human labor behind a book—that it is shaped over time with great effort. And as such, it’s not genius but attention, practice and persistence that generate good art. Finally, it shows the Muhlenberg community that the literary arts are thriving and that they are an important humanistic enterprise, wherein we get to reflect on all the complexities of being human during this particular time.”

The Living Writers series will continue with playwright Steven Dietz on Oct. 2 with a public staged reading of his play “This Random World” and a conversation with Dean on Oct. 3.

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