When I walked into the UMMA on Thursday night, I was instantly reminded of last March, when Kazuo Ishiguro held a reading of his then-recent novel The Buried Giant. Then, I felt as if I was plunged into an environment that was larger-than-life, sitting under the high ceiling of the main foyer. But when I went down to the basement and entered the auditorium where Anne Carson would be reading, I felt the exact opposite; chatter abounded throughout the room, but the lights were muted, closing the room and making it feel small and warm.
If I was to characterize the reading as a whole, then, that’s what I’d say: small, warm, intimate, and most importantly, enchanting. From the introduction praising her amazing body of work to her actual reading, I was completely entranced. She wasn’t an intimidating figure, but quite the opposite. She even joked, in a very dry, but still somewhat kind tone, “I’ll try to be stream-worthy.” I felt nothing but warmth and welcome emulating from her as she introduced her work, titled “An Essay on Threat,” and began to read.
As for the work itself, I must steal from the eloquent introduction Jenny Boychuk. She described Carson as “unclassifiable” and quoted a national critic who deemed her a “philosopher of heartbreak.” Those two thoughts encapsulate her writing perfectly. If you asked me to describe “An Essay on Threat,” which came in three parts, one long, one very long, and one very short, I honestly wouldn’t have an answer. I don’t even know if there was solid plot that I could identify. Instead, I was mesmerized in listening to the writing, delighting in how poetic her prose sounded. Rather than narrating with a direct plot she fills your imagination for you, each salient detail immersing you into the world she created.
I know I don’t speak only for myself when I say I left the reading changed, challenged, and moved. Changed, because after hearing her read, I will never read her work the same way ever again. Challenged, because when she asked all the writers to raise their hands, I wanted to someday be the one asking that question from the stage, which means learning from great writers like her and developing my own craft. And, finally, moved.
“My heart is swimmed in time.” – Anne Carson
The next author in the Visiting Writer’s Series, NoViolet Bulawayo, will be at the UMMA Helmut Stern Auditorium on Thursday, February 11, at 5:30 pm.