By Zach Long | Contributing Writer
On Tuesday, September 13th, the Department of English re-welcomed Julie Otsuka to the F&M campus to host an insightful craft talk in the Writers House and a reading of her own newest novel “The Swimmers.” The craft talk brought in many students eager to learn more about Otsuka, but also about writing and the process of publishing a book.
After a brief introduction from the Department of English, Otsuka sat down and started sharing moments from her personal life about being a writer. Famous for her “inventory style” of writing, Otsuka thought delivering her insight and advice would best be accomplished through a list. A list kept the audience captivated, but also clearly and concisely presented the information that Otsuka wanted to give. She taught students that writing is a process and there are no “shortcuts” to writing a good story. Also, you have to persevere, and fear neither writing poorly, nor failure.
Otsuka really wanted to emphasize the essential lessons learned from failure, since she herself originally studied as an art student instead of a writer. Otsuka studied art at Yale, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, and even pursued a career as a painter for a couple of years before realizing she wanted to be a writer. Otsuka even credited F&M Professor Kabi Hartman as the person who planted the idea of being a writer into her head. “I loved the idea of a novelist,” Otsuka claims. Changing her sights to another art form, she received her MFA from Columbia University and started her writing career.
Throughout the craft talk, Otsuka gave aspiring writers countless necessary tips that should be implemented into their writing. For example, she told students that “Influence is OK,” and that it is important to “learn through imitation.” Influence from other authors should not be avoided but rather encouraged. Conversely, an essential step for Otsuka’s own writing process is, in her own words, “staying in the egg.” At a certain point in developing her writing, she likes to be alone and not take any input from others since it may cloud her judgment. Many students can understand what she means by this, as sometimes criticism from peers or professors can be overwhelming at times. However, Otsuka noted in her next point that in spaces such as a writer’s workshop, constructive criticism is necessary. Students must be generous to their peers and give back feedback in a positive manner.
Later Tuesday evening in the Barshinger Center for the Musical Arts, Otsuka read the first chapter of “The Swimmers” to a very eager audience. Otsuka claims that this novel is written in the tone that most resembles her own, unlike her other two books. Otsuka displays her own signature style in this novel through the use of unordinary points of view. The swimmers’ first-person plural narrative draws the reader into a new world. Otsuka was able to enter the minds of not just one character, but of every member of the underground pool. However, she was still able to make every character distinct from the others, which is quite amazing.
Twenty years ago, Otsuka appeared at the first Franklin & Marshall College Emerging Writers Festival a few months before her first novel was published, “When the Emperor Was Divine,” which went on to win the Asian American Literary Award and American Library Association Alex Award. F&M decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Hausman Lecture featuring Otsuka and her novel, “The Swimmers.” May Julie Otsuka will grace F&M with her wisdom and artistry again— hopefully sooner than 2042.
First-year Zach Long is a Contributing Writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.