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Hey, Slick — gotta story?

BY DAN WATSON | MARCH 26, 2009 7:40 AM

Here are some synonyms for the term “slick” when applied to describing literature: smooth, fluent, polished. Too much slickness in a short fiction story, and the work can become pompous; too little, and the work may come off as amateurish — an equilibrium is usually necessary.

Portland, Ore., native Charles D’Ambrosio, an alumnus and visiting associate professor in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, will give a lecture concerning his mixed feelings toward fiction slickness with his aptly titled disquisition “The Slick Story.” The lecture, part of the Faculty Lecture Series, is at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the Frank Conroy Reading Room of the Dey House.

The unconventional topic came to him while his class ‘workshopped’ a student’s fiction piece. One student said the work was “too slick.” D’Ambrosio added his insight, telling his class that some ‘slickness’ is beneficial for short stories.

“The lecture will be an extreme profession of my profound ambivalence toward slick short stories,” he said. “I’m going to really dramatize my feelings on the issue. At first, I believed slickness makes stories smoother and better to read, but now I’m not entirely convinced about the topic.”

Along with ‘slickness,’ he will tackle the subject of teaching fiction at the Writers’ Workshop. He graduated from the program in 1992 and is now on his second stint as a visiting faculty member. The workshop has changed since he attended, he said, noting that incoming students are already educated in the theory and practice of fiction writing.

“When I came to Iowa, I hadn’t taken any kind of a writing class,” D’Ambrosio said. “My work had never been published. Because most students [today] are extremely competent, not much formal teaching goes on.”

The Workshop is not the common “teacher has something to offer student” format, he said. Rather, it is more of a confidence builder for inspiring writers.

“Self-confidence in fiction writing comes from having your ideas tested and challenged by like-minded people to see how durable they really are,” D’Ambrosio said.

If he is at times unsure what separates himself from his students, D’Ambrosio’s credentials speak volumes about the matter. His short stories have been featured in The New Yorker and the Paris Review. He has also won the James Michener Fellowship and the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction.

D’Ambrosio has published two collections of short stories: 1995’s The Point and 2006’s The Dead Fish Museum. He also published Orphans, a series of essays in 2005.

Most of his fiction can be categorized as postmodern realism. His topics are often dark, and most stories in The Dead Fish Museum share a similar theme of the modern world’s lack of communication.

At present, D’Ambrosio is working on a longer work of fiction that he will read from at the UI later this semester, and he plans to write in Paris after his visiting professorship is completed.


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