In Brown Bag, Mary Biddinger to give lecture on ‘what it’s like to write now’


One day, Mary Biddinger went for a walk and thought she saw a beautiful swan laying in the grass.

“And I was like, ‘Wow, look at this little swan!’ but it was actually just a napkin,” said Biddinger, a poet, editor and professor. “I tell that story to my poetry students all the time. I like strange moments of surprise, and being someone who’s very visual and who likes to comment upon the subtleties and the surprises of that aspect — that informs my writing.”

Though her artistic inclinations initially bent toward visual arts, as an adolescent, Biddinger said she filled a lot of notebooks with her writings, observations and musings. 

“I started wanting to be a writer because I was an avid reader, and books were a place to escape,” she said. “Then I thought, ‘Maybe I can help other people escape, too.’ That’s how I got into it, and I never stopped. So basically, I’m just a very overgrown adolescent still filling notebooks with a lot of ideas.”

Biddinger is the author of seven books of poetry, including her most recent collection, Partial Genius: Prose Poems. In addition to being a professor of English at the University of Akron, where she is on the faculty of the NEOMFA creative writing program, Biddinger also has poetry published in the literary magazines Court Green, Poetry, and Sugar House Review, among others. 

As the Week Two poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, Biddinger will give her Brown Bag lecture “Writing into an Uncertain Future while Looking Back” at 12:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 7, on the Virtual Porch. Biddinger said her lecture will go hand-in-hand with her week-long virtual workshop because the ultimate goals of both are to “make people feel a little less alone.”

“Using technology, especially for this workshop and other programs, can give you a sense of solidarity with others,” she said. “I hope the lecture is affirming and comforting for people who are also going through what it’s like to write now, and that it’s also instructive on how to write about the past in particular.”

Biddinger, whose influences include the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, said that her reasons for continuing to write include the fact that she knows she’s happiest when she’s writing.

“Right now, especially working from home, there’s a weird sense that you’re living at your workplace,” she said. “That’s been an adjustment for me. So I think approaching writing as a treat, and not a job, can be helpful.”

Reading outside of one’s chosen genre, keeping a writing notebook at hand at all times, and getting outside and being around trees are just a few of Biddinger’s recommendations for young poets today. 

“Even if you’re just sitting outside a little bit, looking at the way the leaves move on a tree can be so inspiring,” she said. “Lately I’ve been inspired because I’m having an increased awareness of the good things that are surrounding me at the moment.”

Tags : brown bagChautauqua Writers’ CenterMary BiddingerPartial Genius: Prose PoemsWriting into an Uncertain Future while Looking Back

The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.