Maggie Nelson at the Nourse Theater by Ren Weber

On Friday, January 19th, Creative Writing attended a conversation with Maggie Nelson presented by City Arts and Lectures at the Nourse Theater. There, Nelson talked about her books, The Argonauts and Bluets with Julia Bryan-Wilson in a onstage, recorded interview. I enjoyed hearing about how Nelson views labels and titles, particularly surrounding the idea that she is a “genius” due to the award from the MacArthur Foundation. I noticed how she seemed to slightly evade each question about labels directed at her by the interviewer (about being a queer writer, a poet vs. fiction writer, a genius, etc.) which seemed to parallel the way she dislikes the aggressive way our society attempts to classify and categorize people.

One of my favorite parts of the reading was when questions were opened up to the audience. One audience member mentioned Maggie Nelson’s background in dancing, and asked how Nelson physically feels when writing. I had never thought deeply about the connection between physicality and writing until then, because to me it had always seemed that writing must inherently be a very solitary and stagnant act. I thought it was interesting how she tied movement and writing together, creating a link between the two art forms, almost blurring the lines between the two genres. The excerpts I read before the reading from The Argonauts and Bluets eludes and bends genres as well, introducing layers of poetry, memoir, and literary analysis, which makes one question why we are so engrossed with classifying art into categories.

Maggie Nelson talked about how she can only write from experience, which means that her writing is mostly memoir. I find it interesting how writers seem to pick sides on this debate, either unable to write anything from past experiences or are mostly inspired by moments that have occurred within their own lives. However one may label their own writing, I am wholly of the opinion that art usually stems (if only minutely) from a place of personal experiences and feelings. Seeing Maggie Nelson speak through City Arts and Lectures made me question the way I view my own writing, the way we classify art, and the many boundaries we can cross when we don’t confine our work to arbitrary labels.

Ren Weber, class of 2021

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