The creative writing program hosts a number of visiting writers through the Edelstein-Keller fund, and fiction writer Jim Shepard was our first.Images: (top: department head Ray Gonzalez; bottom: Professor Charles Baxter)
As events intern in the office, it fell upon me to drive Shepard to his interview at MPR--my first visit to the swanky St Paul offices. I sat in the green room, leaning into the old Sony radio, listening to the interview on Midmorning. He was sandwiched between a nurse practitioner at the Children's Hospital talking about H1N1 and a university doctor who does regular medical commentary, which, no doubt, returned to H1N1.
His day was completely packed: on Monday, he had manuscript conferences and dinner with second and third year fiction MFAs along with the creative writing faculty at former-director Julie Schumacher's house, and today, after the interview, he had lunch with MFAs along with more manuscript conferences, visits to thesis seminars, an interview with dislocate, and, of course, his reading and Q&A and reception, where he signed my copy: For Molly, in honor of her dogs and her love of non-fiction--All best, Jim Shepard. Given my ridiculous level of gullibility, I decided his note of my non-fiction love was tongue-in-cheek and not that he forgot I was the only poetry MFA to attend all events. (After all, I never mentioned that I do prose writing as well. Best to keep it simple.) The dogs, of course, is in reference to my car's console, which collapsed when he elbowed it, as one of the dogs destroyed it in an anxious leap from one end of the car to another one summer long ago. I didn't point out the hamster-chewed spot he was covering as we drove around. Or the stain from the hot wings from the M.Ed party I attended one winter so many years ago.
Right now, I'm reading his National Book Award-nominated Like You'd Understand, Anyway, which is incredibly research-heavy, setting stories in the Chernobyl disaster, on planes with geologists in Alaska, amongst Roman battles, and as I read, I'm sussing out the essentials of the stories and wondering how imperative it is, this wonderful research and dramatic backdrop, to the story itself: if the characters were redressed and placed in a contemporary setting, as some of these stories are (in a teenager's home, on the football field), would the poignancy be lost?
Side note: As a kindness, please ask permission before you use any photos of mine. Thanks!