English department hosts Lorrie Moore for Patrick Hayes Writer Series

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The English department invited Lorrie Moore, author of "The Juniper Tree," to come speak as a part of the Patrick Hayes Writer Series. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

As part of the Patrick Hayes Writer Series hosted by the English department, author Lorrie Moore visited the College of William and Mary Wednesday, Sept. 26. Moore spoke in Tucker Hall Theater, reading two samples of her work as well as answering audience questions about her writing process.

Moore has written four short story collections, three novels and one nonfiction collection. She has won many accolades for her work, including the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and is currently the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.

Moore read two pieces of writing: an excerpt from her nonfiction short story titled “One Hot Summer, or a Brief History of Time,” and a fiction story titled “The Juniper Tree.” She made an observation about how she distinguishes the two genres of writing before beginning to read.

“Fiction is something that, like a dream, seems real, and actually isn’t,” Moore said. “Nonfiction would be the opposite: something that seems like fiction but it’s actually real.”

“Fiction is something that, like a dream, seems real, and actually isn’t,” Moore said. “Nonfiction would be the opposite: something that seems like fiction but it’s actually real.”

Moore’s nonfiction piece included personal musings on the idea of getting married to her then-boyfriend of four years. In it, she spoke candidly on the process of going back and forth about “tying the knot,” then finally going through with it at her boyfriend’s request. The wedding process included an uncomfortable dietary incident involving fish, a cream-colored suit and a surprise cameo at the county courthouse from a “60 Minutes” crew. Moore read in a smooth, flowing tone, modulating her pitch slightly and tilting her head up to articulate the more humorous notes of her story.

“It was good to hear the stories in her voice and to get the cadence, especially with her humor,” Caroline Kessler ’19, who attended the reading at the recommendation of her two creative writing professors, said. “I think her own timing really made the stories come to life.”

“A Juniper Tree,” Moore’s fiction piece, came to her partly in a dream. Moore based it on the loss of a dear friend and dedicated the story to her as well. While it opened with a somber tone, Sophia Sheaoy ’20 felt that Moore still interspersed her sarcastic wit throughout the narrative.

“[Moore] does a really good job of blending humor into darker things,” Sheaoy, who has read Moore’s work in creative writing classes, said. “[She includes] dark humor, but also emotional topics.”

Sydney Andes ’22 also appreciated Moore’s creative use of humor as a contrast to darker plot points. Moore’s reading was the first Hayes Writer Series event that Andes had attended at the college.

“I love [Moore’s] humor because it’s often quite relatable,” Andes said. “She makes light of sad situations.”

Creative writing professor Andrew Blossom, who was present at the event, requires his students to attend at least three of the Hayes Writer Series readings, as he believes it benefits them as writers to hear from published authors.

“People who want to write and who do write should be engaging in literature all throughout their lives: not just writing it, but reading and listening to it,” Blossom said. “[Moore] is a wonderful writer, so I just wanted to make sure as many of my students experienced [her reading] as possible.”

Blossom said he enjoyed Moore’s use of solemnity and wit as commentary on the nature of humanity.

“I like the way that she slides between humor, darkness and the reality of life,” Blossom said.  “She really captures something unique about being human and how funny being human can be.”

Following the reading, Moore responded to audience questions concerning the inspiration for her stories, her writing process and her journey from college to her present-day life. She also provided advice for writers on a similar journey.

“You have to make a decision, which is kind of a rational, practical thing,” Moore said about her writing process. “And then, you have to be stubborn.”

“You have to make a decision, which is kind of a rational, practical thing,” Moore said about her writing process. “And then, you have to be stubborn.”

Kessler said she enjoyed listening to Moore’s words of wisdom, as well as the candid and amusing nature with which Moore spoke.

“She was very honest about the hard work it takes to be a writer and the fearlessness and dedication that you need in order to succeed,” Kessler said. “She’s [also] not afraid to laugh at herself, which I appreciate.”