Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Salon: Julie Orringer & Karen Russell

Happy Sunday, everyone! I've been sick most of the week with a sinus infection, but I'm almost feeling back to normal. This afternoon Mr. Nomadreader and I are going to see the Oscar shorts (animated and live action). We went last year and had a fantastic time, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this year's crop measures up. Tonight, we'll be cooking dinner at home, something we rarely do together given our disparate schedules. Then I'll be watching the BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Film Awards tonight on BBC America.

Julie Orringer & Karen Russell Recap
Thursday afternoon, I was able to see the New York State Writers Institute seminar featuring Julie Orringer and Karen Russell. Last week I reviewed both of their novels. The crowd was quite good. The tradition at UAlbany is to have an upper-level English course whose content comes from the Visiting Writers series, so there is usually a contingent of semi-enthusiastic undergraduates who have read their work (typically short stories). The rest of the audience are literary geeks who simply want to be there.

The timing was fantastic. The Invisible Bridge just came out in paperback and Julie was nominated for the Sami Rohr prize, which the Jewish Book Council awards in alternate years to works of fiction that explore Jewish values. Swamplandia! was released last week and was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review last Sunday. Both writers exhibited a genuine respect for each other as writers and their shared editor, Jordan.

(left to right): Edward Schwarszchild, UAlbany professor; Julie
Orringer; Karen Russell; Donald Faulkner, Director of NYSWI
As someone who greatly prefers novels to short stories, I was more interested in those parts of the conversation. Both Julie and Karen mentioned beginning as short story writers because what they were reading as undergraduates were short stories and their graduate writing programs emphasized short stories.

One of my favorite moments was Julie's description of fiction-writing as "considering the connections between things" and "the strange surprises of life." Those themes are quite apparent in The Invisible Bridge. Karen mentioned how much she enjoys short stories because you can take bigger risks as a writer.

Most of the discussion was about writing rather than reading, which is interesting to me, but as someone who read both of their novels, I wish more questions had been asked about specific works. I did find it interesting they both agreed it's easier to write about a place when you're not living there anymore, which struck me as counterintuitive initially, but it's a statement I've found myself pondering quite deeply since Thursday night.

Coming up on the blog this week:

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  1. Sounds like an interesting panel discussion! I'm jealous :)

  2. I've only been to a few author readings or events but have always been struck by how much of the discussion is focused on the actual writing process than the books.

  3. I will be reading The Invisible Bridge this year (at some point). Just trying to work it all in.


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