Brenda Shaughnessy Lights Up Kimball Theatre

Mallory Martin

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On Thursday, Oct. 25, Whitman’s Visiting Writers Reading Series welcomed poet and Rutgers University professor Brenda Shaughnessy to Kimball Theatre to a small but lively audience. Shaughnessy lit up the room with an incandescent smile and a sense of affability that translated into her reading, even when touching on dark feelings of sorrow.

Photos by Allie Felt.

The VWRS is the creation of Schwabacher Professor of English and Creative Writing Katrina Roberts who, despite being on sabbatical this year, was still present to make the esteemed visitor feel welcome. Before Shaughnessy appeared, Roberts listed off a myriad of the poet’s successes, quoting reviews from The Harvard Review, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

The second poet to grace this year’s series, Shaughnessy is the author of three poetry collections: “Our Andromeda,” “Human Dark with Sugar” and “Interior with Sudden Joy. She has also contributed poetry to several websites, anthologies and journals, including Best American Poetry, BOMB, McSweeney’s and The New Yorker. Her work has received high acclaim and awards, including the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets.

The poetry offered over the course of the evening ran the gamut of emotion, telling tales of family life, loneliness, sorrow and happiness. After the reading, Shaughnessy stayed for a Q&A and book signing. Students had much to ask the poet in regards to style, inspiration and creative process, and she was happy to offer advice.

“I try to write things that intrigue me, that I’m not really sure what I think of them,” said Shaughnessy. “I used to write about things that I knew the answer to, but that didn’t really work. They turned into kind of boring, static poems. You have to surprise yourself.”

She also discussed her creative process.

“Another thing I like to do is stare at the wall,” she said. “It’s amazing what happens if you do it long enough. Eventually a thought will come. If you stare at a wall, there is a way that ‘wallness’ really gives you something. A nice white wall is pretty good.”

Audience members were both inspired and entertained by Shaughnessy’s reading.

“This is the first time I’ve attended a VWRS event, but even so, I think it is very useful,” said sophomore Joan Tran. “It allows aspiring student writers to be inspired and learn from the experiences of actual writers. I really enjoyed listening to ‘I Wish I Had More Sisters’ and ‘Karaoke Realness at the Love Hotel.’ There were so many great lines within the poems.”

“Our Andromeda” and “Human Dark With Sugar” will be available for purchase in the Whitman Bookstore for a limited time. The Visiting Writers Reading Series will continue on Thursday, Jan. 31 in Kimball with a reading by Adjunct Assistant Professor of General Studies Johanna Stoberock.

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