Commentaries - July 2007

Michael Hyde, Courtney Zoffness, and Laura Dave each read from their fiction on Alumni Day at the Writers HouseMay 12, 2007. Recordings of each of the three readings — and profiles of the writers as well as photographs of the event — can be found on a special event page we've created. Click on the image here to the right and view a video excerpt from this program: Jessica Lowenthal introduces Courtney Zoffness. Courtney, by the way, teaches creative writing workshop here at Penn, which "explores the bridges and boundaries between fiction and nonfiction."

Greg Manning came to the Writers House in September 2006, almost exactly five years later, to discuss writing about his and his wife's experiences during and after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Listen to a podcast about this event, and watch a 4-minute video clip. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Love, Greg & Lauren: A Powerful True Story of Courage, Hope, and Survival, which has been published in seven languages and was a finalist for several book awards. For more about Greg and Lauren, here's a CNN story.

The first Blutt Singer-Songwriter Symposium at the Kelly Writers House featured Rosanne Cash. The event took place on April 12. Anthony DeCurtis moderated a Q&A; with Rosanne, and she played several of her songs (guitar and voice only — what a treat), including a favorite of mine, "Black Cadillac." The session was recorded and audio is available for free download (right-click on the link above). The July/August 2007 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette includes a good article about the program. Rosanne will be a hard act to follow, as it were, but we'll be hosting another singer-songwriter symposium next spring. The photo here is of Sam Preston, Penn's eminent demographer and former dean (and avid songwriter himself), with Rosanne after a wonderful celebratory dinner in the Writers House dining room.

Melanie Almeder's poems

Melanie Almeder has a new book of poems out, On Dream Street. "La Pluie," a poem written "after Marc Chagall," is in the Wallace Stevens idiom: "The only green thing: the tree at the center, / bent by the pull of wind in the frail sails of its blossoms." I'd say Almeder is not a Stevensian poet overall: she believes in natural description and doesn't dwell on abstractions as lovely in themselves. But she's got the Stevens phrasing here and there and it's personally gratifying to me that she does. Why? Because I taught her, not at Penn as a member of the faculty — but at Virginia when I was there teaching as a doctoral student. Melanie was even then — as a freshman — a fine writer and a great student. And I recall that in class (although it was supposed to be a composition class of sorts) I read aloud from Stevens' poetry semi-obsessively. The book is published by Tupelo.

Surely one of the highlights of my involvement with the Writers House Fellows program — which has brought three eminent writers to the cottage at 3805 Locust Walk each year since 1999 — was the visit in April 2005 of Adrienne Rich. She gave a wonderful reading and we had a terrific interview-style conversation the next morning. What stunned and moved me most was her very positive reaction to us and her praise of the Writers House and the students and even of me. Her response was everything we'd hope for when we experimentally created the Writers House in the first place — and more. Of the new poems (from School among the Ruins) she read for us, I was most taken by a short poem called "Wait." Here is an mp3 of Rich reading the poem, and here is her 34-second introduction of it.