This past Tuesday, September 6, was our first reading for the fiction/non-fiction program at my university. The reader was Marjorie Sandor and she read from her new non-fiction book The Late Interiors: A Life Under Construction. Sandor has published two novels and two non-fiction books and runs the MFA program up at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Part of the reason she came to M.U. to read was because a beloved former professor plays a significant role in her book. But to avoid any spoilers, I won’t reveal much more.
The book is comprised of a number of essays and rough gardening journal entries from a journal that Sandor says she has been keeping religiously at 5:30am every morning about her garden. However, she found that her personal life seemed to keep sneaking in. My workshop was able to read the first twenty pages of the book which were absolutely stunning, as well as insightful and intriguing.
What I enjoyed most about this book, or what I have been able to read (so far), is that it contains so much fantastic language. It is just image after beautifully described image that paints an incredible image in your head. Maybe it is a factor of it being a work of non-fiction and everything described is authentic and real, but I was pretty convinced that I wanted to move to Corvallis (where the book takes place) after the reading. Sandor made it sound like the most amazing place in the world. Because of her style alone, I am planning to look into Sandor’s fiction books: The Night Gardener: A Search for Home and A Night of Music: Stories.
In addition to her reading, Sandor was kind enough to come into our graduate workshop to talk to us about her work. Since we have two students who are studying non-fiction and I have a personal interest in the field, it was a really fun experience to meet her. She talked to us about the process of writing, the unique way she found publication, and also challenged us to conquer our senses other than sight in our writing. She had us describe an “interior” or a “space” that was important in our current project. You’d be surprised how often writers rely only on sight, neglecting the other senses, and when facing a challenge like this, placed their characters in a small, dark space where sight isn’t even an option.
And as always, after the reading we all headed to the local (and specifically undergrad-free) bar with Sandor to share a few alcoholic beverages (Shiner Bock being my beer-on-tap of choice, and Sandor had a White Russian). This is always a fun experience because the authors become very candid, telling you their dirty little secrets about the book which of course I would never reveal here. However, the faculty in attendance did spent a good amount of time discussing how writing programs used to be back in the day when everyone was sleeping with each others spouses and there were a good many grad students as second wives… But they all agreed that they are happy those days are over and now it’s the writing that shines. Not that a few good stories didn’t come of it first though!
I encourage anyone who is in a writing program to always attend readings and to try and go out with everyone afterward. It’s a wonderful experience and could provide an important connection in the future.