Photo by Lucy Wimmer
By Anna Mann
On Tuesday, February 21, author Erin McGraw visited the Torian Room to share some works in progress. McGraw has been published in many journals and magazines, printed six books of fiction to date, and taught at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference for several years. McGraw and her husband, Andrew Hudgins, moved to Sewanee following her retirement from teaching at Ohio State University. The Friends of the Library event included works from her upcoming book of fiction focusing on contemporary “flash fiction” techniques.
She read four of her stories to the room of eager listeners with the ease of someone who has read in front of a crowd for years. Her hands moved in sharp lines to enunciate key words, and her dry humor augmented a witty writing style that kept the audience engaged. She stated that these two or three page stories “were not intended to be illustrations, but explorations.”
This statement rang true as story after story contained both impressive detail and passion. The works centered around relationships, and whether it was a sassy young girl and her grandmother, the author and her deceased mother, or a grief-stricken Christian and her God, all permeated the feeling of almost overbearing reality. This sense of the real world served the stories well, for although they constituted works of fiction, their bullet-quick reality checks carried considerable weight.
The stories themselves left the audience with an almost physical perception of her brief literary “explosions,” as she called them. All her stories had originality, but a feeling that one had almost lived in her character’s shoes as well. Nevertheless, these works felt a great deal more powerful with her voice harnessing their syllables. The black loafers crossed at her ankles seemed in line with her confidence and fluid voice that sliced clearly through the small room.
McGraw explained her reasoning for calling her stories explosions when she stated that her current works seemed “a little bit like a poem. You’re getting information from a lot of places at once.”
Although her work may have seemed effortless, in a question session afterward, McGraw admitted that her efficiency in the composition the tales varied greatly.
“Some of them got written in a week,” she noted with a flourish of her hand, “and some of them in a year and a half,” she finished, as the hand returned to the podium.
Before leaving the rest of the Friends of the Library crowd to mingle at the refreshment table afterward, creative writing certificate candidate Sara Kachelman (C’17) voiced, “It was refreshing to hear her talk about the flash fiction form because that’s something I’m experimenting with myself right now. I thinks she had a different handle on it and it was interesting to hear how she shifted from long fiction writing. She has a really sharp wit in all of her pieces. I enjoyed it.”
McGraw’s pieces offered a new perspective on contemporary fiction writing and demonstrated authenticity in both her writing and personal life. She offered advice, explaining her usual writing routine when she articulated, “It always starts with just a little riff, then I usually scratch it. Really I just mess around until I find something interesting. All you can really do [when looking for inspiration] is find something that’s interesting to you.”