by Courtney Murphy
“Building a body of work is exactly what a writer does, and published is the best kind,” Jess Walter, Whitworth’s writer-in-residence said. Walter gave a reading on March 31 in the Music Building Recital Hall and talked about how he found success as an author. The reading was filled with students, English department faculty and many members of Spokane’s literary community.
Walter’s writing is “broad in scope and mind,” professor Thom Caraway said. He uses his platform to touch on themes such as empathy and brokenness.
At the event, Walter read a short story that is currently unpublished which he wrote last year for Auntie’s Bookstore’s annual community reading event, Pie and Whiskey. Either of the two words “pie” or “whiskey” must be referenced in the work for it to be eligible for the event.
The short story, “Whiskey Pie”, chronicles the reactions of four adult siblings as they come to terms with their parent’s recent divorce. Interspersed with heavy doses of humor, profanity and complex themes such as forgiveness and healing, “Whiskey Pie” was well-received by the audience.
In the question-and-answer session after the reading, Walter encouraged aspiring writers to write as much as possible and build up a body of work before they search for publishing opportunities. About 70 percent of his writing is not published, Walter said, while emphasizing the importance of finding time to write every day.
He also encouraged the audience to read as much as possible, and from a variety of genres.
“Look for things you admire in a work, and then emulate/steal them,” Walter said.
During the Q&A, several people commented on Walter’s vivid and unique descriptions in his writing, and asked where he got his inspiration. In response, Walter spoke about how he uses vivid figurative language to slow down or speed up a section of writing, based on its context.
Allow yourself to go into big, broad descriptions when you want to slow down the writing, Walter said.
“If I see something I think is a great, vivid description, I write it down,” Walter said.
Walter also told the audience that as a writer, his political and social views are not always the same of the views of the speaker in his work, but he sometimes makes a “comic over-statement of some twinge [he] might feel.”
Junior Chris MacMurray attended the event because he was familiar with Walter’s work after reading his short story collection, We Live in Water, in his writing workshop.
“A lot of his stories have to do with brokenness and broken people…[but] I think that he, himself, as a person separates his voice from the speaker in his stories,” MacMurray said.
Walter visited MacMurray’s advanced writing workshop class, along with several other classes, and spoke about how to start a piece and where his inspiration comes from.
“He talked a lot about how most pieces, for him, start with the voice of the piece. Once you can find the voice of the piece, then you can find the different characters, or the themes that are going to go into the story, and you can progress on from there,” MacMurray said.
After hearing Walter speak in his class and at the reading event, MacMurray, a poet, is interested in experimenting with fiction writing.
“Fiction has always been intimidating for me, because it’s totally an interaction with your imagination, which I haven’t really explored a whole lot, but he’s made me want to do some research with that,” MacMurray said.
Having Walter, a proud Spokane native, as Whitworth’s writer-in-residence has been a positive experience not just for MacMurray but for other students, faculty and community members as well. By attending classes and participating in 125th anniversary events, he has inspired many aspiring writers throughout the Whitworth community.