By Emma Fletcher in News
He lives now in Minnesota with his wife, but author Benjamin Percy continues to turn to the Pacific Northwest as the setting in his novels and short stories.
“The Northwest is so ripe for drama,” said Percy, speaking to students at Clark’s Columbia Writers Series. “Look at it geographically. The Cascades run like a spine down the middle. It has almost every sort of bio-region. It has desert, it has alpine, it has rainforest, it has oceanside.”
Percy is the first of two writers speaking at Clark’s Columbia Writers Series this quarter. When choosing writers for the series, co-directors Alexis Nelson and Jim Finley look for local or national authors, “someone with a prestigious reputation, to some degree, but also entertaining and easy to relate to, really open and giving towards students,” Nelson said.
Percy has written two novels and two short stories which have been read on NPR and published in Time, The Wall Street Journal, Tin House and GQ, where he is a contributing editor. He also writes for DC comics.
“I never dreamed I would become a writer. It never occurred to me that you could become a writer,” Percy said.
Percy was encouraged to pursue writing by a waitress to whom he wrote love letters to. “Sometimes it just takes that one person […] in your life who gives you that push and you sort of find your path.” He ended up marrying her.
Percy began to read a piece of his novel, “Red Moon.” He spoke in a booming voice, “I remember vividly the first time I met the wolf man.”
The Columbia Writers Series, introduced at Clark in 1988, scheduled two accomplished writers for public readings this fall, a first for the program.
By organizing two lectures this quarter, Finley and Nelson hope to draw in more students, continuing and expanding the series. “It’s built with students in mind,” Finley said.
“Students will see literature that’s alive and experience it in a new way,” Nelson said.
“It is especially good for creative writing students to meet a writer, a living writer. Not just a name in a book but a physical person reading their work,” Finley said.
Instructors encourage their students to attend the event and incorporate the authors’ work in class. “Sometimes an instructor will bring an entire class,” Finley said.
“How fun is it to ask an author directly, ‘What was going on in that particular part, why did you include that detail?’ and to discuss that process is really enjoyable for them,” Finley said.
“Students are definitely our primary audience. We want the series to be a service to students in a way. We also really want members of the community to come and to see Clark as a center for that kind of cultural experience,” Nelson said.
The next lecture will be hosted by Wells Tower in PUB 258C, Nov. 3 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Like Percy, Tower writes both fiction and nonfiction. “He’s a really funny writer, his work is entertaining,” said Nelson. “He’s from the South, so it’s sort of a different flavor for us. We tend to have a lot of Northwest writers so I think getting someone from a different part of the country will be interesting.”
Finley and Nelson said they are also excited that best-seller author Jess Walter will be hosting the winter lecture on Feb. 11.
“We’re expanding it, we’re bringing in bigger names, but never lose focus of the student-centeredness of the program.”