Charles Baxter gave a lecture on “Creating a Scene.” Here, he used the word “scene” not in the traditional sense in which it is used in fiction workshop, but in the way in which most people mean it when they say “Please don’t make a scene.” The crux of Baxter’s argument is that too often writers try to remain in control of their scenes, and shy away from letting characters act out their drama. He suggested that in art, as in life, people do behave in foolish and over-blown ways, and one shouldn’t be afraid to reflect that in one’s writing. He cited many examples of scenes, including one from one of my favorite writers–Edward P. Jones. (He also mentioned, en passant, that some of the most convincing outcasts or disenfranchised characters can be found in Dostoyevsky, so I made a mental note to re-read him while I’m working on my new novel.)
Doreen Baingana, whose collection, Tropical Fish, was one of my favorites this year, read the title story from her book early this week. Set in Uganda, the story is about a woman who has an affair with a white man and the effect of it on her life. It’s a sad, reflective, poignant piece, but there were moments in the dialogue that were funny, creating a nice contrast.
Claire Messud read from her forthcoming novel afterwards, a wonderful voice-driven piece about a college-bound young man named Frederick (unfortunate nickname: Booty). She read at a dizzying pace, but without once losing her audience.
Chris Castellani read a heart-breaking excerpt from his new novel,The Saint of Lost Things. He dedicated the reading to Amanda Davis, who died in an accident two years ago, and who was a fellow here in 1999.