Biddinger, Brantingham to open week with flash fiction novellas

Biddinger and Brantingham

Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

Books and poetry collections don’t need to be long to have an impact. The same sentiments can be achieved in a 4,000-word essay or a 100-word blurb.

Week Four’s poet-in-residence Mary Biddinger and prose writer-in-residence John Brantingham will dive into their own writing, including flash fiction novellas, at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the Hall of Philosophy.

Biddinger said she will read from her most recent poetry collection, Department of Elegy. The collection features themes of dim nightclubs, churning lakes and vacant Midwestern lots.

“When I practice reading for a particular event, I test the poems out by reading them to my cats,” said Biddinger, professor in the NEOMFA creative writing program at the University of Akron. Aside from rehearsing with her feline friends, Biddinger said she thinks about which poems will elicit a certain response from the audience. She does this both ahead of time and during the reading.

“I will calibrate it based on the audience and the day and the energy I’m feeling,” she said. “I also like to think about the series of poems having a conversation with each other.”

Brantingham, former poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, will read from a series of drabbles — 100-word stories — as well as his books Life, Orange to Pear and Inland Empire Afternoon.

“(Inland Empire) is a region just outside of Los Angeles toward the desert,” Brantingham said. “It’s the part of the city that a lot of people look down on because of issues of class and race.”

For that book, he wrote 50 different points of view, none which progress the story necessarily, he said. Brantingham decided to write the book this way to contest stereotypes so that the readers are “doing a lot of work” to understand the piece.

Biddinger said she wants to “transport (the audience) to another place and another time.” She includes “a lot of details” in her poems and hopes her writing will resonate with people even if they don’t share the same experiences.

“They’ll be able to feel (the experience), almost like watching a movie,” she said. “I also would appreciate if I’m able to bring out some nostalgia to the audience.”

In her flash fiction novella project, Biddinger said she has “micro-linked, compact stories” to tell the story of two roommates in the late ‘90s Chicago era. 

“I’ve had a lot of fun with those two characters,” she said. “I’m able to write about their adventures, which are very minor adventures — going out for drinks on a rooftop deck and ordinary things.”

Both writers will give a Brown Bag lecture and lead a workshop in their respective field for Week Four’s Writers’ Center Programming. 


The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.