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Two UI Writers’ Workshop alums to read

BY ALYSSA MARCHETTI | MARCH 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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Writers and friends Malena Watrous and Sabrina Orah Mark have much in common.

They both attended Barnard, the Columbia-affiliated women’s college, for their bachelor’s degrees before receiving M.F.A.s from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since leaving the UI, both have found success at other institutes of higher education.

Mark is a Park Fellow at the University of Georgia, and Watrous holds a Jones Lectureship in Creative Writing at Stanford University.

“I’m really looking forward to my homecoming trip to Iowa,” Watrous wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Iowan.

Watrous will read from her début novel, If You Follow Me, at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. today, along with Mark, who will read from Tsim Tsum, her second book of poetry. Admission is free.

Mark believes any good poem should dwell within the “innermost,” a feat she hopes to achieve with her prose poems.

“Tsim Tsum is a Kabbalistic claim that a being cannot become, or come into existence, unless the creator of that being departs from that being,” she said.

Critics have called Tsim Tsum more than a mere collection of poems; it is a collage of surreal moments, contradictory by nature, equal parts here and there, sinister and innocent, dream and reality. Mark chose “the architecture of the prose poem” because she believes it is the closest form that “resembles a home marked by all these things.”

The main figures in Tsim Tsum, Walter B. and Beatrice, were introduced in Mark’s first book, The Babies.

“When the [first] book was done, I began to miss Walter B. and Beatrice,” she said. “I wanted them to return to me, but because they already were goners. I needed to make for them a field, a field contingent on being gone … and meet them there.”

The characters in If You Follow Me were important to author Watrous as well.

“They took on a life of their own,” she said. “[It] became a strange sort of love story.”

Her novel focuses on Marina, a recent college graduate, as she follows her girlfriend to a rural Japanese town to teach English in order to avoid dealing with her grief in the aftermath of her father’s suicide. However, Marina soon realizes that the past is not so easily discarded, especially under the constraints of the Japanese garbage law, which dictates what she may and may not throw away.

“These dirty, rotten, disgusting things kept finding their back to her,” Watrous said. “It’s a nice metaphor for what she was going through emotionally.”

After each violation, Marina received an unintentionally humorous letter from her supervisor, forcing her to confront some difficult questions, such as how do you decide what to keep and what to abandon? What do you do with the things that refuse to be left behind?

Watrous wants to create characters that are vivid and surprising, characters whose lives readers want to be privy to.

“They’re wonderful young writers,” Prairie Lights co-owner Jan Weissmiller said. “Sabrina’s poems have a whimsical quality to them. And Malena came recommended by [authors] who have given compelling readings here.”


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