UNDERGRADUATE ADMISSIONS at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in ST. LOUIS

“Craft, Craft, Craft, Craft, Craft…”

It’s Tuesday evening, and I am stressed out. Scratch that: I was. I’m not anymore. It’s 8:40pm and the sky is the color of plums. I am sitting at the edge of Brookings Quad, savoring the juice of a single, sublime strawberry snatched from the reception table; someone to my right is smoking (though he shouldn’t be), his presence confirmed only by a pungent smell drifting my way. It’s cool out, but given that it’s November, I really can’t complain.

Joy Williams gave a craft talk tonight. The reception is taking place just inside; all the writer types, my professor included, are drinking wine and chatting with one another, a mob of tonal colors—blacks and taupes and burgundies and olives—congregating outside Hurst Lounge.

She was fantastic, really.

It was a homework assignment—not entirely mandatory but mostly so—for us to attend. My fiction professor (more on him to come) asked us to attend at least two events this semester, and this was my first. About a third of my class was there, though that isn’t saying much since our sum total is twelve. We sat together in the corner at the back.

She read two pieces. Standing at the podium, wearing a white shirt under a black leather jacket, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses, she was whimsical, irreverent, dark, brilliant. “Craft,” she began. “Craft, craft, craft, craft, craft, craft…”

Based on the few short stories we’ve read from her this semester, I would hazard to guess that’s how she rolls. She talked about how recalcitrant words are, how challenging it is to bring pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you prefer). What struck me was how the words were like chocolate—smooth, rich, delicious. I ate up every one.

This is a dimension of WashU I did not know existed. We’re a research institution, after all. We’re Pre-Meds and engineers; we’re chemistry, biology, computer science, and calculus. But we are also one of the top undergraduate writing programs in the country. We are surrounded by writers, taught by artists. Accomplished authors visit campus, read their work, share their experiences. It’s magic. I swear.

The door to my left has just opened, and Joy is walking with my professor and several others. I suppose that’s my cue to wrap things up.