Flash fiction novellas weren’t the peak of the ‘90s, — though that was when the term was coined — but poet-in-residence Mary Biddinger tries to keep the spirit of the decade alive through her poetry.
Biddinger will speak at 12:15 p.m. today on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall to kick off Week Four of the Writers’ Center Brown Bag lectures.
“I’d like to build on what we’re doing in the workshop,” said Biddinger, who’s teaching a class this week on “Delight in the Details: Writing Poems that Startle and Enchant,” “thinking about how we generate material for poems and what material we put in the poems.”
After finishing edits on a collection of essays about self-care for writers, Biddinger said she teamed up with a colleague to ask writers what their advice is to take care of themselves.
“My Brown Bag talk is going to focus on moving from your writerly practice and … how you take care of and nurture yourself as a writer and as a human at the same time,” she said.
Looking back, she said, in “the history of literature, a lot of those authors did not take great care of themselves.”
Biddinger said she compares choosing what to include in poetry to going grocery shopping.
“I’m always the person whose arm is hurting so much because I put all this stuff in my hand basket instead of getting a cart,” she said. “(We’ll talk) about where you generate and find these descriptive items.”
When working with writers, Biddinger said she tries to be as “gentle and positive” as possible.
“(Sometimes writers are) afraid that the instructor is going to give them harsh criticism,” she said. “My aim is to uplift all writers, so they can expect to leave the workshop feeling better about their work and getting some new ideas about how to make it grow.”
Among Biddinger’s poetry collections are Partial Genius: Prose Poems and Department of Elegy. Her flash fiction has appeared in Always Crashing, DIAGRAM, Gone Lawn and Southern Indiana Review. And as a professor and administrator at the University of Akron, Biddinger said she often feels “like an ambassador” for the ‘90s.
She said she didn’t realize “how cool” the ‘90s were until talking to some younger friends.
“They (said), ‘Wow, you’re so lucky that you were able to be a young person at the time when Nirvana was touring,’ ” Biddinger said. “That was pretty awesome. The music is really great and so are the clothes — even if the clothes are hideous — they’re still great.”
Biddinger said she took this idea — and others from speaking with her 21-year-old daughter — and ran with it.
“One of my favorite things in writing, regardless of genre, is filling the writing with details,” she said, “so people can just experience things along with the speaker of the poem or the piece of flash fiction.”
The majority of Biddinger’s work comes from memories, reading and research, she said. Her current flash fiction novella project is set in the lives of two Chicago roommates navigating the city in the ‘90s.
“I do research to fill my poems with stuff that would be appropriate,” she said, “and also to think about what our emotional connections to those things might be.”