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Award-Winning Author Olivia Clare Visits UNO for Reading and Q&A

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On Thursday, Feb. 1, poet and fiction writer Olivia Clare visited UNO for a reading of her published work and a discussion. Hosted in the liberal arts lounge by Creative Writing Workshop director Neal Walsh, the event was an opportunity for students and writers to not only sample Clare’s literature, but to meet her in person and pick her brain.

After enjoying some beverages and snacks, guests sat around in the arranged semicircles of plastic chairs to welcome Clare, who stood at the podium.

“Before I ever started thinking about fiction, [I was writing] lots of poetry,” she said while greeting the gathering. On that note, she opened her readings with several pieces from her 2015 poem compilation “The 26-Hour Day.”

First, Clare read “Bone and Hue,” a poem also published in the London Magazine. She delivered it with emotion, adding that the audience might notice a “nursery rhyme vibe” in its verse. She followed this with her “Warp and Weft,” then continued with her “Time-Lapse of a Future Year,” also published in the Notre Dame Review.

The evening’s final poem, once published in the Colorado Review, was called “Thee.” Before reading it, Clare mentioned that the quirky, vocabulary-laden poem “makes sense in sound.” The explanation was complemented by her admission that the work was “an homage to Walt Whitman.”

“I came to fiction with a poetry background,” Clare said, preparing to read to the audience a short story. “I would send [samples] of my poetry to friends and they would say, “You’re writing fiction,”” she said, smiling.

She opened up her 2017 short story collection, “Disasters in the First World,” and read “Olivia,” which the New York Times critic Andrew Ervin describes as a “bright spot” in “Disasters in the First World,” a story which “features an unstable houseguest who overstays his welcome and a paradoxical pet that may or may not exist.”

“I just wanted to write a story about a strange house guest — and suddenly he becomes unwelcome, said Clare. She added that when she lived in Las Vegas, “suddenly everyone wants to visit and everyone is my friend — my house had a revolving door of guests,” and she used that experience to write “Olivia.”

Luckily, those who didn’t attend on Thursday evening can find and read “Olivia” for themselves at catapult.co/stories/olivia.

Clare also made her mark with other stories in the collection, according to Ervin, who wrote that “Two in particular — “Pétur” and “The Visigoths” — will probably be anthologized and taught and cherished for years to come.”

Of writing brief fiction, Clare added, “I love that about the short story, that you can read it in one sitting, and that idea that it could have been written in one sitting.”

When she isn’t writing, Clare teaches as an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University and edits for the Texas Review.

“I teach poetry and fiction at the same time…I’m teaching a really fun class right now on poetic theory,” Clare shared, mentioning a few works she likes to cover with her classes, including “Life on Mars” by Tracy K. Smith and “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine.

“”Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” [by Rankine has] one of the best openings in poetry that I’ve ever seen,” said Clare.

The evening’s question-and-answer session included some relevant advice for students pursuing a writing career and a personal of account of Clare’s daily life as a writer.

On writing work that conveys a deep meaning or is heavily stylized, Clare said “You want your story to be strange, and you want it to be mysterious,” she said. “But you don’t want to leave people out.” She advised the writers in the room to write with “mystery, but not so mysterious that it’s hidden… You don’t have to let everybody in, but you have to let some people in.”

She described this process as creating a “meeting place” with the readers.

“How can I start meeting [the reader] a little more but still do what I want to do?”

Clare also discussed the importance of finding time to write.

“This year, I really had to get my novel finished,” she said. “I do a lot of “just get your butt in the chair.” Now I schedule time for myself to write.”

Because of her busy teaching schedule and her personal studies, she said that “Getting that time is a really big deal.”

Many of Clare’s poems, essays, and short stories are available to the public via links through her website, olivia-clare.com. “The 26-Hour Day” and “Disasters in the First World” are available for purchase online, and are soon to be followed by Clare’s most recently finished novel, which will be published by Grove Atlantic. Clare posts routinely on her Twitter at @olivia_clare_ and UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop similarly uses @CWWMFA for announcements.

 

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Award-Winning Author Olivia Clare Visits UNO for Reading and Q&A