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Writing with questioning

BY MARISA WAY | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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For Thalia Field, her inspiration to write begins with a question.

These questions can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” In fact, these are the kind of questions that may not even possess an answer. The author and professor at Brown University describes them as “nagging” and “impenetrable.”

“The only way I can get into them is through writing,” Field said. “Reading, writing, thinking, and mostly imagining … a world in which I can pose a question in an interesting way.”

While writing may be Field’s remedy for the unknown, the results often leave her with more questions rather than answers.

“Especially when characters or storytelling elements start to be involved, they elaborate a kind of world of the question,” she said. “A paradox of existence starts to come into play.”

She will read from her book Bird Lovers, Backyard at 7 p.m. today in Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. She will also read a few short pieces from her novel A Prank of Georges, which will be released in a few weeks’ time.

When it comes to writing and her own work, Field is not afraid to blur boundaries and cross media, and this reading will be no exception. Whereas at most readings authors usually stand at a podium and read excerpts from their works, Field will enlist the help of performers — students and faculty from the UI — to provide the voices for some of the characters found in her books.

Adam Roberts, who is in his second year in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, will assist Field in her reading. He said he agreed to participate after Cole Swensen, a poetry professor in the Writers’ Workshop, asked some students to perform for the event.

“[The pieces] are I guess what you could call ‘polyvocal’ in nature,” Roberts wrote in an e-mail to the DI. “They draw on a number of voices, though the boundaries between voices are not always necessarily clear. It’ll be our role as performers to interpret those boundaries.”

Although some writers may shy away from Field’s multi-sensory approach to her writings, Roberts believes in the concept’s ability to connect with readers.

“Changes are fun,” he said. “If a group reading, or other media, is a change from what a reading usually looks like, then I bet it stands a chance of being fun for the audience.”

While this group reading may be out of the ordinary for the literary world, performing is not something Field is unfamiliar with. She was involved in theater long before she began delving into poetry and prose, she said.

“For my own work, there’s no way for a single voice to read most of what I write,” she said. “That factor caused me to seek other ways to put the work into performance.”

Most of her work takes several years to complete, with shorter pieces taking two or three years and longer ones expanding over a decade. However, she knows that a piece is done when she stops being the one to lead.

“They start to take on their own,” she said. “It sounds cliché, but they live on their own in a surprising way. When I’m following the piece rather than it following me, then I’m getting somewhere.”


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