Students and faculty gathered in the Heineman Ecumenical Center on Tuesday, April 12 to listen to Susan Steinberg read a section from her newest book, “Spectacle.”
As a part of the Arts and Ideas program on campus, English professors Patricia Horvath and Samuel Witt organized Steinberg’s book talk and reading, which was given to an audience of about 40 people.
Horvath introduced her longtime friend.
“I would say I admire her work, but I think that is such a pale and watery word for a work that pushes and challenges and makes us reconsider notions about form,” she said.
“Spectacle” is a collection of short stories, including the one she read that evening, “Cowboy,” which, despite its short length, managed to touch on several serious topics like death, addiction, maturation and loss, to name a few. The piece was read aloud in under an hour and the author reported that it took over a year to write.
During the question and answer portion of the talk, Steinberg revealed that she does not follow typical writing approaches when working on a story and pays little attention to plot and character development. When asked about the role of plot in her writings, Steinberg said, “I don’t plot. I don’t set out to create a story that’s shaped in a certain way. I can’t work that way and I just don’t want to.”
As a part of her writing style, Steinberg rarely gives characters names to avoid any personal associations readers may have with a certain name, as it could influence their opinion of that character. She went on to explain, “anything that I think will slow down the reader or make them do unnecessary work, I try to get rid of.”
Despite originally studying painting at Maryland Institute College of Art, Steinberg eventually discovered a passion for writing and went on to earn her master’s in English here in Massachusetts.
She admitted that originally writing was “just something to do while my paintings dried” until it eventually became more than that. Steinberg now teaches English at the University of San Francisco and is a visiting professor this semester at New York University.
She revealed to her audience that the creative process she experienced when painting is very similar to what she now goes through when writing. When asked about this process, Steinberg answered, “I don’t outline, I don’t plot and I don’t plan. I just start writing and see what happens. And that’s exactly how I painted. There was no sketching first. I would just slap on the paint and see what would happen.”
The only noticeable difference she reported was in regards to sound. When painting, Steinberg prefers a noisy studio but requires complete silence when writing.
Senior Owen McSweeney attended the event as a requirement for Professor Witt’s Writing Poetry class, and found the talk fascinating.
McSweeney said of the event, “I thought she had a lot of interesting points of view on form, conflict and character development. I personally disagree with her process but I think it’s very important to understand different types of character forming and conflict development. I thought it was especially interesting how she argues against putting plot in her stories.”
Sophomore Molly Conant said that although she also attended the event as a requirement for a class, she “loved the event. I already bought one of her books!”