October 1, 2018

Axton Reading Series: Author Leah Stewart visits U of L

By Joseph Garcia — 

Each semester the creative writing department hosts their Axton Reading Series where poets and authors visit U of L’s campus. The visiting writers share their work at a free public reading followed by a small workshop session the next day with students chosen based on their manuscript applications.

The first reading occurred Sept. 27 in the Bingham Poetry room of Ekstrom. Leah Stewart, professor of creative writing at the University of Cincinnati and author of six novels, was the first of the three writers visiting this fall.

Stewart read from her latest novel, “What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw“. The omniscient voice present in the work was a unique challenge for Stewart.

“As a teacher you’re always teaching yourself new things to keep class interesting every semester.”

Stewart then discussed her research into early forms of novels in the 17th and 18th centuries. “The narrators were omniscient allowing them to be playful and witty. At any point they could pause the story and fill readers in on backstory,” Stewart said.

For Stewart this was challenging because many contemporary writers try to make seamless transitions from an omniscient voice to a character’s thoughts. A narrative done in a completely omniscient voice challenges this by creating transitions that to many readers would seem jarring, but as Stewart said, “was something completely normal in the 17th and 18th century.”

“The word choice was so deliberate and interesting that I felt as if I was the omniscient narrator watching the scenes she read play out before me,” said sophomore Cory Brzozowski who attended the reading.

“I was very intrigued by the way she set up the scene and I want to know more about the relationships between the characters.” Brzozowski said. He also said he is interested in reading more of her work.

After Stewart’s reading, the room opened up for a Q&A session. When asked about how to handle critiques from agents and others, Stewart said the best thing to do is be human and then come back to the work.

“You have to know in advance you will be upset, feel that, let it out, then come back to the critiques and see what they were saying. It may help you find new ways into the work you previously didn’t see,” said Stewart.

// Photo by Joseph Garcia

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