The Spring 2012 Harman Writer-in-Residence Reading
Each semester, since Fall 1998, a lucky few gifted student writers have had the opportunity to study and interact with the College’s Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence in master classes and workshops. And each semester the Baruch community eagerly awaits its chance to experience these distinguished poets, playwrights, novelists, journalists, essayists, and critics at a semi-annual, public reading and conversation.
This semester, our turn came on the evening of Mar. 20, when Pulitzer Prize finalist and native New Yorker Laurie Sheck, the Spring 2012 Harman Writer-in-Residence, orchestrated an unusual “Harman Happening.” Sheck’s multimedia digital presentation, centered on a 40-minute video exploration of her latest work, A Monster’s Notes, challenged the audience’s expectations—and was more effective because of it.
The video entwined the audience members in Sheck’s world—her research as well as her ultimate prose-poetry output—as Sheck herself had become entwined in Mary Shelley’s world. A Monster’s Notes is in part a re-imagining of Shelley’s Frankenstein. “I was completely obsessed writing this book,” admitted the poet. The Monster, immortal so outliving author Shelley, resides in the East Village.
“My monster was really a rather thoughtful guy,” she said jauntily. “In Mary Shelley’s novel, the Monster is a killer. In my book, the Monster is not. I really grew fond of him.” Sheck described the present-day Monster as her guide and near-constant companion. With him, she “got to be a student again,” exploring through his eyes such 21st-century commonplaces as Google searches.
Sheck shared her inspiration for the idea of A Monster’s Notes: At the time, her husband was suffering from a neurological disorder that lent Frankenstein-like qualities to his movements. (He has since recovered.)
The form of Monster’s Notes was the result of Sheck’s wanting a “break from poetry,” one that embraced research and fact-finding. “In life, categories can be corrosive,” explained Sheck. “Warhol appropriated imagery in his work. Why can’t poets? Breaking down categories in many areas of life is exciting.” For marketing/publication purposes, Knopf categorized the genre-defying work as a “hybrid novel,” and A Monster’s Notes has been well-received and -reviewed. It was chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of 2009’s ten best books of fiction and nominated for the 2011 International Dublin IMPAC Literary Award.
This evening’s salon event could not have been more consistent with the spirit of the beloved Harman Residency Program founder, Sidney Harman (’39, LHD [Hon.] ’05), whose personal mantra was “Stay curious.” The Harman Family Foundation has supported the Harman Residency since its inception and has continued to support the program since Harman’s death in April 2011 at the age of 92.
The 28th Harman Writer-in-Residence, Sheck is the author of five books of poems, including The Willow Grove, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, the New York Times, and A Public Space. In addition to Baruch, Sheck has taught at Princeton, Columbia, and the New School.