Columbia Writers Series: Local Author Shares Coming of Age Story

Cheston Knapp. (Ainslie Cromar / The Independent)

It was pindrop silent aside from Author of the recently-published book “Up Up, Down Down” Cheston Knapp’s booming voice: “We all assume essays are what serious writers do when they’re not making art.”

Knapp, managing editor for the literary magazine “Tin House,” spoke for the Columbia Writers Series on Feb. 15 in the Penguin Union Building and read an essay from his book, which was released only nine days before.

The book follows his coming of age story through seven essays written over five years.

Alexis Nelson, English professor at Clark College and co-director of the Columbia Writers Series, said inviting currently-published authors like Knapp allows students valuable interactions with writing.

“Literature is something that lives outside of textbooks,” Nelson said. “People who are out there publishing books are ordinary people. It brings to life the whole idea of writing and literature.”

Nelson said that the Columbia Writers Series committee chose to invite Knapp because he works on both sides of the industry as an editor and an author.

“He’s a writer himself, but he also works with a lot of other writers and is working within publishing,” Nelson said. “So for people who are interested in that side of things, he might be able to speak to that.”

Nelson said she believes that college writers series bring value to students’ education, enhance the campus culture and help the greater community grow.

Nelson said hearing what writers are doing in the present day may “work as a gateway drug to some of the dead poets that may otherwise feel a little bit more inaccessible.”

Knapp’s managing editor role for Tin House’s magazine exposes him to different genres of writing and allows him to aid other writers. The magazine offers an array of work including fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Articles and columns are also part of the magazine, with an eclectic grouping of subjects. Knapp said he reads stories and essays submitted to Tin House and if they’re approved, he works with the author. “The writing is always in some way, ancillary or secondary to the reading,” Knapp said.

“Up Up, Down Down,” Knapp’s first published book, is a compilation of seven essays that tie together and portray influential events that shaped his life.

He describes everything from his nostalgia for skateboarding to the dramatic memory of his neighbor’s murder and witnessing its aftermath. Knapp said he believes his attitude towards writing is unique.

“Part of me feels like writing is the great gift that we get, that I got, in life.” Knapp said. “Anything I do is only a way to pay back the community of writers that have fed me for so long.”

Second-year student Amber Leckie and assistant editor for Clark’s student literary journal, the Phoenix, said she is ecstatic to read his book. “I would love to read anything that he wrote,” Leckie said.

Leckie attended his speech and said she became inspired because “he is basically doing what I would love to do.”

Leckie said Knapp’s speech influenced the way she perceives her career path.

“It was casual in the sense that it seems achievable in some ways even though it’s very terrifying,” she said.

Knapp said he recommends that aspiring writers read often and focus on grabbing inspiration from the books they love.

“It just takes a lot of practice and a lot of failure to get to a point where you feel like you have something that’s worth sharing,” Knapp said. “You need perseverance in this game.”

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