Beamed to Pittsburgh

Beamed to Pittsburgh


Thanks again to Ken Salzer, who, through the glitchy miracle of technology, transformed me into a beam of light and shared me with his students yesterday.

I’m teaching an intro to lit course right now, and I’ve dedicated a fair amount of class time to showing video interviews with authors and discussing the author’s life and inspirations.  I think it’s important to see authors as human, not as dusty relics from the distant past.

While it’s probably true that you should never meet your heroes (and I’m not saying that I’m anyone’s hero), it’s dangerous to think of authors as remote, priestlike oracles. Writers are smart, tenacious people, but most of all, they’re people who are bold enough to take part in a conversation with culture, with other writers living and dead, with the distant past and future.  It’s easier to join that conversation if you view authors as people who procrastinate and eat Cool Ranch Doritos while fretting about money.  It’s much harder if you view authors as mythic giants.  (That said, who wouldn’t like to be a mythic giant?)

It’s a pleasantly strange experience speaking to any group of people as an author.  As someone who was once an undergrad at Pitt, it’s surreal to think that students in the same classrooms are reading my novel and writing papers on it (especially after they’ve just read Mysteries of Pittsburgh and other books that were on my shelves as a teenager).  Ken’s students were really engaged and asked some great questions; I’d hope I did them justice.

As an aspiring writer in grad school, it was something of an epiphany to meet writers like George Saunders, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Dan Chaon.  Sitting there, watching them eat and talk about 80s music, it started to dawn on me that writing wasn’t some kind of magic superpower bestowed by the gods.  It was something that took hard work and practice, but it was certainly something within the realm of possibility.