By Emily Landgraf
The color pink, ghosts and the usefulness of a B.A. in fiction were just some of the discussions a small group of students were treated to when critically acclaimed author Joe Meno visited Rider for the third time on Tuesday, courtesy of Writer’s Block.
Meno, a fiction writer and playwright based in Chicago, has written five novels, two collections of short fiction and many fiction and nonfiction pieces. Meno is also a winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Great Lakes Book Award, and was a finalist for the Story Prize.
“What we’re trying to do with the Writer’s Block series is to bring some of the same people back several times,” said Dr. Mickey Hess, an associate professor of English. “It’s nice because the students actually develop kind of a little relationship with the authors. They get to see what [the authors are] working on as it progresses and turns into a book.”
Meno began the event by reading an excerpt from his novel, Office Girl, which will be coming out in July. The book tells the story of two twenty-somethings who start their own art movement. It lasts about three weeks.
Meno took time after the reading to talk to the students and answer any questions they had, and did so good-naturedly and with a healthy dose of humor.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said in response to a question about the job market. “It’s dismal right now. You’re like the first generation in the history of university or college in modern America that has worse prospects than their parents.”
However, he assured the students present that very few authors are able to subsist simply by writing, and that having a day job is “a device that keeps you grounded.” Meno currently teaches fiction writing at Columbia College Chicago.
“I’ve seen the writers who don’t have day jobs and the kind of work that they produce, and I think there’s something about having to go to a job and interact with people who are different than you that I think makes your writing probably more rich or at least more grounded in the substance of what’s affecting people in day to day life,” he said.
Meno’s sense of humor was evident when a student asked why the color pink appeared in so many of his stories.
“I’m a man and I love the color pink,” he joked. “I’m an enigma.”
Meno simply enjoys the color pink and it comes through subconsciously in his work, he explained. Meno also tends to reference both birds and ghosts in his work, often without realizing it until later in the writing process.
“When you’re writing and it’s working, that’s you at your best self,” he said. “It’s you at your smartest, wisest, most empathetic, most humane self because it’s asking you to imagine what other people feel, which is a pretty wonderful idea.”
Meno also discussed the importance of being able to bounce your ideas off of other writers.
“This idea of having a gang, of having a group of people to share your work with, it keeps your work alive,” he said. “To have a gang or a group of writers who are like-minded, who are interested in talking about writing — it keeps your work growing. I think that’s critical.”
After a brief question-and-answer session, Meno attempted an experiment. He produced a series of index cards on which he had written a story.
He asked one student to shuffle about half of the index cards and asked another to remove some cards from that group. Meno then randomly placed the remaining cards together for a completely new and once-in-a-lifetime reading experience.
Meno and Hess also read a story called “The Rapper and The Novelist,” which was written in an interview-type format. Meno read the questions and Hess provided the answers about a rapper, a novelist and a girl. The story was written by Hess and will be featured in a collection of his short stories entitled The Rapper and The Novelist.
“It’s something that I wrote probably five years ago and I’ve read it with Joe a couple of times,” Hess said.
The event met with very positive response from Hess as well as students who attended.
“I would say the event went really well. We had a good crowd and a lot of people were repeat audience members,” he said.
Senior Andrew Martinez, president of Writer’s Block, enjoyed the experience thoroughly.
“Joe Meno’s my favorite author, and when he told me that his book Hairstyles of the Damned was like his autobiographical one, that was like the best thing I could have heard,” he said, referring to the question and answer session. “That’s my favorite book by him.”