“Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are,” Julie Buntin wrote in the first sentence of her novel, Marlena.
Buntin will discuss “knockout” beginnings in a Brown Bag titled “Where Do I Begin? What a First Chapter Should Accomplish” at 12:15 p.m. Friday, June 29, 2018 on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. She is the prose writer-in-residence for Week One at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.
“In my lecture, I hope to discuss frankly and openly where stories come from,” Buntin said. “We’ll touch on methods for discovering the stories hidden in the details of everyday life, and we’ll also talk about how to alchemize experience into narrative.”
Buntin is director of writing programs at Catapult, an educational and online platform for emerging and established writers. She has written for the likes of The Atlantic, Vogue and The New York Times Book Review. Her first novel, Marlena, was named best book of 2017 by publications such as The Washington Post, Esquire and Kirkus Reviews, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize.
Marlena is the story of a whirlwind teen friendship between Cat and Marlena. Over the course of their yearlong friendship, Marlena exposes Cat to a laundry list of firsts — first kiss, first drink and first pill — until their friendship implodes with Marlena’s untimely drowning. Years later, an adult Cat still cannot get her friend out of her head.
Although Marlena is fictional, some of the feelings explored in Marlena are rooted in experience. For example, Buntin said the “often profound, life-altering” experience of female friendship, familiar to most adolescent girls, is a source of inspiration. Transforming and tapping into those experiences is the “alchemy” her Brown Bag will discuss.
“In adolescence, I’d argue those friendships help shape who we become,” she said. “I think the recent success of books that celebrate these relationships in all their wonderful complexity speaks to just how enduring, and timeless, these stories are.”