June 17, 2009

classroom visit to Concordia

So at the last Pilot Reading Series at Blizzarts a few weeks ago, I met someone who, upon introducing herself, told me we'd just missed meeting the night before at the roller derby (we were sitting close to one another in the stands, with a mutual friend between us) AND that she, K, was teaching a story of mine in her Canadian Literature summer class at Concordia.

Teaching my story in a university class. My story. University class. (!!!)

It was so shocking that I didn’t even ask a single follow-up question, not even to ask which story. I think I changed the subject back to roller derby. I was thrilled and too bashful to bring it up again. Then a few days later K emailed me to ask if I'd be willing to visit the class on the day they were scheduled to talk about the story. I could come at the end, after the lecture, and do a brief reading and answer questions. So I did!

Really, the headiness of the whole thing is enough to dine on for months, if not a lifetime. But I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to give it its due here, so let me do so now.

I’m a Can Lit student myself, and the other story on the syllabus that night was Lynn Coady's wonderful "Play the Monster Blind" (from the collection of the same name), which was a story I'd studied in one of my graduate seminars. The idea that 70-odd students also had a story by me in their coursepacks is still almost more than I can really take in at the moment. (In case you're wondering which story, it's "Bloodlines" -- incidentally, the story I'm currently developing into a novel. A fact which was also brought up during the question period by one of the students, who had done some Googling!)

It was a diverse and very bright group of students and they were very nice to me and asked lots of questions and made me feel welcome. I could tell, too, that a number of them were writers themselves. One of them put me on the spot with a question about whether or not I consider myself a Quebecker (I'm still puzzling this one out. I said, Montrealer, absolutely. But the implications of this are a bit tricky.)

One of the first things I told the class was that I no longer commit the intentional fallacy --- that is , I don't think that what the author says about his or her story is the final word. I was nervous about inadvertently contradicting or undermining something K. had said in her lecture. (I needn't have worried, of course. She had already warned them that I might have a different take on things.)

One of the questions from the students did give me a clue as to a bit of what was discussed in the lecture: “If hair is such an important theme in the story, why didn’t you bring that out more?” Good question!

(My answer, minus a bit of extraneous babbling: it's difficult as a writer to know what's coming across as blatantly heavy-handed or overly subtle. Walking that fine line is a what a lot of the work of writing is about, and editing even more so.)

So all in all, it was an amazing experience. I left the loneliness of my apartment where I'd been shut up working on the novel all day long to go an evening class full of smart and enthusiastic students who were asking me questions about the very same characters. To say "renewed sense of purpose" would be an understatement! I'm so grateful to K. for having read and liked the story enough to include it in her course, and for inviting me to do the visit.


Jonathan Ball said...

that's really cool, i'm so glad it was a fun experience for you. i had Suzette visit my class where we read Venous Hum and gave them the same speech about the "intentional fallacy" that i give every year. i think the new critics may not be completely (but are at least partially) right with the affective fallacy, but the intentional fallacy: spot-on!

saleema said...

Oooh, yes, I agree on the affective fallacy. And is there a name for the fallacy wherein a New Critic imagines he can study a text 100% outside of its emotional impact on him as a reader?