By Marlon Pitter
Sometimes even the most accomplished writers don’t have a theme in mind when they set out to create characters for a story or compose poetry.
That’s what award-winning writers and English Department faculty members Andre Dubus III and Sandra Lim told a crowd that turned out to hear them read and discuss their work at a recent Writers on Campus event.
“I really don't think about theme much at all,” Dubus said. “I try to throw myself instead into character and setting and (the) story in an organic way, and then I really leave it to readers and critics to tell me what the theme is.”
Dubus, a best-selling author of novels and a memoir, and Lim, an award-winning poet and essayist, read from their recent works, fielded questions on writing and shared insight into their creative processes.
Held at O’Leary Library, the event drew dozens of students, faculty and community members. The two discussed how reading widely to helps them become better writers.
“I keep saying to my students, ‘Read everything,’” Lim said. “I think it's so important, because it's so easy, especially these days, to just be in your own silo.”
Addressing the prevalence of coldness in some of her poems, Lim said she didn’t realize the theme was present until after writing them.
“I didn't notice that, necessarily, or I wouldn't have quite crystallized it in that way,” she said. “If I wrote out of that knowledge, the poems would be kind of dead.”
Assoc. Prof. of English Maureen Stanton says Writers on Campus gives the UMass Lowell community a chance to interact with accomplished authors each semester. Throughout the history of the series, the English Department has brought esteemed writers to campus, such as Rajiv Mohabir, Robert Pinsky and Claudia Rankine.
Stanton says the department also features its creative writing professors every few years to talk about their latest work.
Lim read from her recently published collection of poems, “The Curious Thing.” Dubus read his short story “Ice,” which was published in Narrative magazine, and answered questions about his 2018 novel “Gone So Long.”
“I think it brings prestige to the university,” says Stanton. “They've both won national awards for their work, so we try to get the word out so people can see that UMass Lowell has on its faculty these renowned writers.”
Brendan Flynn, a junior English major with a concentration in creative writing, came away from the event inspired and informed. He said hearing Dubus explain his writing outside of the classroom setting was a special experience.
“Speaking with (Prof.) Dubus feels like a window into the kind of person that I want to grow up to be,” Flynn says. “It feels like looking into the future.”