Writers on Campus

Disclaimer: I’m a mere Fiction II student, which means I probably have the reading comprehension of a goat and thus no right to judge another’s writing. That said, I’m going to allow myself to geek out here. Because this book made my day a lot of fun.

Five days ago, my friends and I wandered into the Loop’s local bookshop while waiting for a table to open up at Salt & Smoke. Last night, I wandered back on my own.

Rarely do I stop at Subterranean Books—for a broke college student who already reads hundreds of pages out of necessity, it’s more of a distraction than anything else—but today, I needed some fiction. Besides, chance had it that I clean my room this afternoon and, in the process, rediscover a flier about writers on campus. One of WashU’s own, Professor Danielle Dutton, was scheduled to read that night.

I had spotted her latest book, Margaret the First: A Novel, while browsing the store with my friends on Saturday, but after holding it for a few minutes, decided to listen to my wallet. Yesterday, though, Mad Madge was still on my mind, so I headed back to the Loop.

When I arrived at the shop, a dachshund eyed me from his box behind the register. Eventually he alerted his owner (who was shelving books) to their visitor; I bought the book, then popped over to one of my favorite study spots, Blueprint Coffee.

Though I have gone to several of readings this year, before yesterday I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to read an author’s writing beforehand. Which is why the game plan this time was to read the entire book before 8pm.

That idea died on page two. The writing was just too good; I wanted to slow down, savor it as words grew into sentences, sentences into paragraphs. By 8pm, I was only fifty pages in.

I headed into Hurst Lounge. After a few minutes, one of the MFA students introduced Professor Dutton, and then Professor Dutton stepped up to the podium.

I was already convinced of language’s ability to intoxicate, but hearing the author herself read her book, with a lyricism that only she can know—that was a whole different level of cool. Made all the cooler by the fact that she calls this campus home. And she emphasized that fact: she loves teaching here.

One last thing: When she opened the floor for Q&A, Professor Dutton spoke a bit more to the way she wrote the dialogue, which, as a writing student, I found particularly fascinating. To put us in the story’s time and place—17th century, England, France, Belgium—she uses language that sounds truly 17th century to modern ears. But it’s not. If it was, it would probably contain thous and thees that would eventually irritate us more than immerse ourselves in the world she’s built. Instead, she makes use of a vibrant vocabulary that gives us the feeling of Margaret’s world; in a sense, the fiction becomes more truthful than the reality.

And that, is something worth thinking about.