Visiting Writers Series begins with Marcia Aldrich
Though it may not seem like a flat tire, a baseball game and a grilled cheese sandwich have anything in common, each one taught listeners an important lesson about capturing “the moment” during the first event in Grand Valley State University’s 2015-2016 Writers Series.
Marcia Aldrich, author of “Girl Rearing” and teacher of creative writing at Michigan State University, kicked off GVSU’s annual celebration of the craft. The series brings in accomplished writers of all genres to speak, interact and share advice with students. Aldrich’s Oct. 1 entry featured a craft talk, reading and book signing.
During her craft talk, Aldrich taught the importance of building “the moment,” a process that involves immersing oneself in the sensory details of a scene. She illustrated this by having volunteers read aloud four brief essays.
After each, Aldrich pointed out the specific techniques the author used to paint a clear picture, whether it was the use of present tense, deflective humor or an easily overlooked detail—like a grilled cheese sandwich. Aldrich said she finds teaching these moment-making strategies to students rewarding.
“I really like to make things,” she said. “I think that if I was a musician or an artist I would still be excited about the making of a piece of music or the making of a pot, and for me, there’s a kind of hands-on art to making stories, and teaching is also making in a way. I’m hoping people will become excited about the making of things.”
Aldrich said the message of her talk was not just applicable to students looking to be professional writers.
“What are the benefits (of learning to write about moments)? Clarity. Doing something hard,” she said. “Thinking. Thinking hard about experiences about yourself and about yourself in relationship with the world. About language, structure, shape - all those things.”
In reaction to the craft talk, writing major David Ulrich said he would make use of Aldrich’s advice in the future.
“I feel like when I come to one of these (events), I just sit there and absorb it, and then days later I’ll come back to it,” Ulrich said. “It’s one of those things that sort of needs to gestate. The one thing I’m thinking of right now is the idea of slowing down and focusing almost entirely on one moment. I think it’s really important.”
For students like Ulrich, Aldrich offered some guidelines on where to begin in their own moment-making.
“Start small," she said. "Start at the physical world around you, the physical memory that you have. Try to stay in the moment, and if you do that long enough it will speak to larger issues. “
The craft talk was followed by a live essay reading by Aldrich in the Cook-DeWitt Center, where she read her essay “Enough.” Afterward, Aldrich hosted a book signing and Q&A session, during which she discussed her thoughts on poetry, memoir writing, and the difficulty of writing about people from one's own life.
The GVSU 2015-2016 Writers Series will continue Tuesday, Nov. 17 with a craft talk, reading and book signing by Nina McConigley, author of the story collection “Cowboys and East Indians.” More information about the series and future entries is online at www.gvsu.edu/writing.