Juan Martinez enthralls in latest Visiting Writers event

Alex Hagen

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On Thursday, Sept. 29, Visiting Assistant Professor of English Juan Martinez graced Kimball Auditorium with an intimate reading of his two new short stories. Martinez, whose work has been published in various journals and anthologies, also took questions from the audience.

Credit: Charlie Li

First, Martinez read “Northern,” a humorous story with elements of horror. “Northern,” parts of which were inspired by David Cronenberg’s horror film “The Brood,” was commissioned for an upcoming anthology of short stories set in Las Vegas. Like much of Martinez’s previous work, the story blends several different genres, and its plot takes several surprising turns before the end.

“[‘Northern’ was] seductively creepy,” said senior Megan Oost. “It was eerie, but you wanted to know more about it.”

Martinez also read “Best Worst American,” a gentle, sweet story that takes place at a Wal-Mart. When taking questions from the audience, Martinez admitted his appreciation of the store.

“It could be a commentary on the awfulness of Wal-Mart, but it’s actually a commentary on the awesomeness of Wal-Mart: the awful awesomeness,” Martinez said.

Throughout the reading, the audience was attentive and thoroughly engaged, largely due to Martinez’s dynamic style of reading.

“[Martinez] possesses a rare ability to perform his pieces and add a new dimension to them,” senior Brady Klopfer said. “You hear him read and it’s almost like it wasn’t even the same piece of work.”

The two stories Martinez read were quite different thematically and stylistically.

“I think one thing that makes him really unique is his ability to use a really unique style of language that’s not the same for every piece,” said Klopfer. “It’s not like you’d read a piece and say, ‘Oh, that’s Juan Martinez,’ based on the language alone, but each piece has this really interesting craft and use of language that’s slightly abnormal and works for that piece.”

In the question-and-answer portion of the reading, Martinez named his various influences: mentioning authors such as Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov and Charles Dickens: and discussed his writing process.

“I often find myself discovering meaning as the story’s going along, so information that is being withheld from the characters is sometimes being withheld from me because I’m not aware of it,” said Martinez.

“You get to see first-hand how the writer goes through his process and then presents the material to us,” said first-year Tory Davidson after the reading. “I think it’s awesome.”

Carmen Giménez Smith, the next author in the Visiting Writers Reading Series, is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. in Kimball Auditorium.

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