Writer Gish Jen—whose work has been published in the New Yorker and the Atlantic, chosen for The Best American Short Stories five times, and nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle Award—was on campus last Thursday, December 1. She met with students currently enrolled in the "Books Without Borders" class and addressed the entire St. Mark's community in the Putnam Family Arts Center's Class of '45 Hall as part of the Gray Colloquium speaker series.
As the second speaker in this year's series focused on "Conspiracies and Consequences," Jen read from her short story "Rothko, Rothko" which appears in her latest book of fiction, Thank You, Mr. Nixon. Authenticity is at root of the story, in which a professor contemplates selling fake Rothko paintings, and one of his students plagiarizes. Jen chose to share this particular story as a way of illustrating misrepresentation and intentional deception in today's culture–and the legal and moral ramifications.
In a question-and-answer session that followed the reading, students asked Jen How she appropriates personal experiences into a story? and What authors and literary works inspire her? Jen explained that her stories are "my experience and adjacent to my experience" with added imagination. She also claimed to be "heavily influenced" by Alice Munro, which she said is "not entirely coincidental" since she and Munro share the same editor (Ann Close, senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf, whom Jen has worked with since the 90s).
"I've always loved a lot of the great old traditionals: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Edith Wharton," Jen added. "And bad girl and bad boy writers," she shared with a laugh, listing Philip Roth and Jamaica Kincaid among those whom she described as "supposed to be one thing but are another."
St. Mark's was fortunate to have such an acclaimed and accomplished writer on campus to speak with our students as part of this year's Gray Colloquium. You can read more about Jen and her work at: https://www.gishjen.com/
Photo by Adam Richins.View more photos from our gallery on SmugMug here.