Stuart Dybek returns as Ida Beam visitng professor


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

An author who doesn't create outlines for his work and begins projects without a complete story in mind, Stuart Dybek relies on unpredictability to motivate him.

"One of the ways that I am wired is that I kind of like not knowing what I am writing, and [I] like having the piece tell me what it is," he said.

The 1973 graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop will return to Iowa City as an Ida Beam Visiting Professor at 8 p.m. today for a free reading in Van Allen Lecture Room 2. He will also participate in a Q&A at 11 a.m. Friday in Dey House's Frank Conroy Reading Room. Admission to both is free.

Lan Samantha Chang, the director of the Writers' Workshop, looks forward to the reading.

"Dybek is one of the rare writers who combines elements of fiction and poetry in his work," she said. "He is one of the most distinguished and well-loved alumni of the Workshop, and we are thrilled that the Ida Beam Visiting Professor Program made it possible for us to bring him here."

Dybek is the recipient of many literary awards, and his work has been included in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Poetry. Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with Magellan are among his published works of fiction. He is also author of two collections of poetry, Brass Knuckles and Streets in Their Ink.

Much of the work he writes is based on the ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, stories that look into the lives of the people residing there. His new work, from which he will read at the UI today, is no exception.

One project, which the author classified as nearly nonfiction, called "St. Stuart," tells his story of the Chicago neighborhoods and schools he attended while growing up.

While the story is based on his own life, Dybek resists labeling it as a memoir. He wants to be able to take the liberty to embellish his stories, although they are based on his memories.

"The main thing from that is that I want it to be comic," he said. "I try to work in a consciously comic medium — like how Twain is funny."

He sees labels as somewhat unimportant to his work.

For example, he submitted a story called "Thread" to a literary magazine without the label of fiction or nonfiction. A representative at the publication demanded a classification for the story. He responded with what he calls a "shrug of the shoulders," and the story went on to be published in Harper's in 1998.

The "in-betweenness" of writing is a way he avoids classification.

"When I was at the Workshop, I took poetry and fiction. Even before I even got to the Workshop, I was fascinated by in-between pieces," he said. "A lot of those pieces straddle poetry and fiction, and that interests me."

While Dybek resists using cliché phrases to describe his experiences, he said the Workshop "changed his life" because for the first time, he was surrounded by "real writers" at the most-esteemed writing program in the country.

"It was a very heady atmosphere, and it had a profound effect on me because when I went in there, I went in with a huge question mark," he said.

Dybek, the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University, also taught at the Writers' Workshop around 10 years ago. He said he was impressed to return to Iowa City and see the quality of the program had remained.

"It's just such a unique thing that sits there in the middle of the corn fields and hog farms," he said.

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.