Deb Unferth kicks off the Kellogg Writers Series

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The Kellogg Writers Series kicked off this year with author Deb Olin Unferth on Sept. 27 in Schwitzer Student Center, room 010.

Assistant Professor of English Barney Haney thanked those who were involved in the Kellogg Writers Series and introduced Unferth before she began her reading.

“There is something in her characters that know there is something great out there[in the world], and they won’t be denied it,” Haney said. “They won’t be beaten and battered by life so that they forget that there is something great out in the world. They go through real crap storms, and they still keep pushing for that something great. I just love the belief in her work.”  

Unferth’s fiction and nonfiction writing has appeared in magazines including Harper’s, The New York Times, Granta, Vice, The Paris Review and McSweeney’s. Her most recent, a short story collection titled “Wait Till You See Me Dance,” was being published by Graywolf Press.

According to the handout Haney sent via email, Unferth has received four Pushcart Prizes, Creative Capital Grant and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for her autobiography “Revolution.”   

“Being a finalist is sometimes even better than actually winning,” she said about being a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. “When you are a finalist, there is less pressure on you, because you are in a group instead of being in the spotlight.”   

Unferth is currently associate professor of creative writing at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. She also founded a two-year program at the John and B. Connally Unit penitentiary in southern Texas, where she holds monthly workshops with eight inmates. She said she never expected the creative writing program at the prison to become what it is today.

After the reading, Unferth answered questions about writing strategies and gave advice for new and up-and-coming writers. She talked about the difference between having confidence in your writing and knowing when to take advice from editors or peers.

“It’s important to know your own voice when writing a story,” she said. “I spend a lot of time revising my stories… I read it over and over again, and it comes to a point when you have to say, ‘I don’t care’ [that] you don’t like it or that something should be changed… knowing when to accept edits and knowing when to stand by your work are two very important things.”

According to Haney, the Kellogg Writers Series offers University of Indianapolis students an opportunity to connect with and relate to established authors through their experiences regarding rejection and success.

“For one thing, it can seem, as young writers, that authors live on Mars, and we have no contact with them except with the book,” Haney said. “But with the series [the Kellogg Writers Series], we get to really connect and see that they [the writers] have had experiences just like us, and it gives us hope to one day see us standing up at the podium reading our own work.”

Junior physical therapy assistant major Shelby Gyurky enjoyed attending the event and looks forward to attending more like it.

“I really enjoyed hearing her [Unferth] read,” she said. “It [the reading] helped emphasize her point of view with her short stories… the way her voice changed between scenes and even her stories really grabbed and held my attention… I look forward to the upcoming readings later this year.”

The next Kellogg Writers Series will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 25  in the Schwitzer Student Center, room 010 and will feature authors Lori Rader-Day and Christopher Coake.  


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