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Jim Shepard Imparts Wisdom to Aspiring Writers

I sit in Bush Auditorium like a fly on the wall. I see a sea of interns, Rollins students who helped set up this event, now having the privilege of a professional author examine their own personal writing in a workshop setting to analyze the good, the bad, and the downright comical aspects of each of their works, in the hopes making them better writers. As this is going on, there is an audience of eager-eyed students, faculty and members of the community watching the process of writing come alive. This is one of the many goals of Rollins’ Winter With the Writers, a near month-long series of events, starting Jan. 20 and occurring every Thursday until Feb. 10. Each Thursday, a writer from one of the many subsets of the field (novelists, poets, playwrights, etc.), comes to Rollins.

First, there is a master class workshop at 4 p.m., wherein the writer discusses a select group of the interns’ work. In this case, Jim Shepard, novelist and short story writer, looked at one of the most poignant lines in each of the five interns’ writings. He dissected each line, word for word, giving analysis and getting group feedback from the “class” of interns about what they discerned from the work. When asked what he had hoped the students and audience gained from the workshop, Shepard responded that he wanted to teach a key lesson that is often overlooked when writing prose: Each word counts. Just like poetry, writers need to be cognizant of every word and have it mean something important, instead of simply throwing them around to be wasted.

Later that night, at 8 p.m., Shepard gave a 40-minute reading of his short story “Boys Town,” published in The New Yorker. The story was fantastic; not only was it quite comical, it drew one’s attention as being quietly dramatic as well. Then there followed a quick Q-and- A session, where the audience asked questions, ranging from that of intrigue and curiosity (“How does one go off and find a publisher? What are your thoughts on the rising trend of MFA programs in the country? What does your revision process entail?”) to the comical and quite… interesting (“Have you ever gone to a cemetery to find names for a book?”) After many questions were asked, the author spent the rest of his time signing any and all books that people had, getting through the entire line. Before Shepard left, I asked him a few more questions, most especially about what advice he had for students interested in writing. Shepard suggested that one “not lose sight of the element of play.” Writing is by no means an easy task, for it does come with much difficulty and disappointment, with one always “confronting [his or her] limits” each and every day.

I implore all lovers of literature and those interested in the art of writing to come out to Bush Auditorium Jan. 27, to see Rollins’ next writer, Stephen Dunn, as well as the remaining writers in the following weeks. They all have a plethora of knowledge to share and this opportunity is not one to be missed.

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