SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER
People tend to walk around with their nose buried in a phone with music playing from earbuds, blocking them off from their surroundings. Week Five’s prose writer-in-residence Akil Kumarasamy wants to remove that block, and help people find the extraordinary in their ordinary surroundings.
Kumarasamy is the author of the story collection Half Gods, which was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and was the recipient of the Bard Fiction Prize, Story Prize Spotlight Award and a finalist for the PEN/Robert Bingham Prize. Her work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, American Short Fiction and the Boston Review. She is an assistant professor in the master of fine arts program at Rutgers University and has received fellowships from the University of East Anglia, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, artists’ community Yaddo, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her first book, Half Gods, was a series of connected short stories that tied together, and she is currently working on a novel. Kumarasamy thinks that writing a short story collection is, in some ways, more “daunting” than writing something as long as a novel.
“For a short story collection, you have to think of a new structure for each story,” Kumarasamy said, “while with a novel, you just have one structure which we have to continue. You have to enjoy that story enough to continue, while in a short story form, you could change it.”
She will be giving a Brown Bag titled “Writing Through the Unknown” at 12:15 p.m. EDT today, July 30, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch. For her lecture, she wants to help people find “fantastical possibilities” in their everyday life. She wants writers to learn to have an “expansive view” of the writing process, and see that it is more than just sitting at a desk and typing on a computer. She gives the example of going on a daily walk: That as one passes the same landmark, like a field, a writer might begin to notice details that they initially missed. According to Kumarasamy, the more time a writer spends being observant, the more “strange” the details may seem, or they might prompt strange questions. These small thoughts could end up leading to an interesting plot, character, or setting. This act of “discovery” also helps someone start following their creative thoughts.
“Having the first draft being much more intuitive, versus later drafts when you kind of thinking more through craft,” Kumarasamy said.
She hopes to help writers unlearn the fear of the unknown; she believes over-planning can be just as much of an enemy to productive writing as under-planning. She thinks that there is joy to be found in the act of discovery through writing.
“Embrace the uncertainty as part of your process,” Kumarasamy said. “It’s going to be very fruitful, and it’ll take you places you didn’t think were possible because you’re not planning every single step of the journey.”