UNDERGRADUATE ADMISSIONS at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in ST. LOUIS

Writers World: Jane Brox Talk

“I am going to begin with a confession.”

Jane Brox begins with this intriguing opening line. I await her her next words with anticipation, in the comfortable Hurst Lounge in Duncker Hall. It’s 8pm. Outside the windows, campus is dark causing the bright image of the room to reflect off the glass. The room is occupied from wall to wall from chair to couch to cushion to bench, although the ambience is calm, quiet, and expectant. Attendees have a writing utensil flicking readily above either a notebook or a piece of scratch paper. The audience is undergraduates, graduates, and professors alike. However, in this space they release those roles; they are writers, readers, creatives.

“I am not good at fiction writing.”

Attending this lecture is a requirement for a creative nonfiction class, so I am okay with this. Even though, I know Jane Brox is a wonderful creative nonfiction writer and our class has been enjoying her works in the weeks leading up to these talks. Her words in written works about illumination and rural places, prisons and meditation have captured my interest. Now I get to listen to her words in her own voice.

Jane’s speaking as prolific as her writing. She begins by describing her process as a writer. How she writes by imagining herself as a reader. How she manages to write up to fifty pages at a time. How if she considers them “lifeless” she will throw them all away. She wants to invite the reader to move forward with her, yet also to dwell on the material between the pages. She talks about how shapes build under the reading eye as it trails, slowly accumulating. It’s a conversation between the meditative and the narrative. She says to write “is to have an ongoing argument with what one thinks about craft.” She takes breaks from thinking about what she wants but what the page itself needs as “the demands of the part are not always the same as the demands of the whole.” She is easy on herself about what constitutes writing each day she starts working on a manuscript. Sometimes it is less about writing than it is putting the whole thing on the floor and restacking the prose. This illustrates well what she says about writing nonfiction being like carving into granite.

Jane wrote her last book on the topic of silence because it is an elemental aspect of human life. Straight away, I note the silence in the room when Jane’s voice pauses and then when she speaks again. A room full of writers. As deft wielders of words, they understand when silence resonates the most.