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Feature: Study with Authors

2012-13 has been a strong publishing year for our faculty. They have edited textbooks, written memoirs, contributed to academic series and published articles in journals, including Arthuriana, The Journal of Rural Studies and Gastronomica. They have given poetry and nonfiction readings across Portland, from coffee houses and bookstores to the Chinese Garden and Jewish Voices.

Communications faculty Patricia Lind authored Communication at Work—a practical guidebook on effective communication strategies—and Dr. Jennifer Sasser's blog The Gero-Punk Project has been featured on multiple websites, including ChangingAging and Senior Planet.

This past year also witnessed the release of two books that have received national and critical acclaim: Natalie Serber's Shout Her Lovely Name and Jay Ponteri's Wedlocked.

Natalie Serber

Serber's Shout Her Lovely Name is a collection of short stories that follows the tumultuous relationship between a mother and daughter in 1970s California. The book was featured in The New York Times Book Review, The Oregonian's Top 10 Northwest Books of 2012 and Oprah's 2012 Summer Reading List. It made The New York Times 100 "Notable Books" of 2012.

It's received numerous accolades from the literary community. The San Francisco Chronicle said, "Serber's writing sparkles: practical, strong, brazenly modern, marbled with superb descriptions." Vanity Fair called Serber's novel "funny" and "bittersweet," and Booklist wrote, "Sharp, somber, and sparkling commentary...As provocative as it is poignant, Serber's searingly honest depiction of the complex, contentious, and confusing bonds at the heart of all families heralds an exceptional new talent."

When she isn't writing and living her life in Portland, Oregon, Serber also teaches fiction writing for the Department of English. (In fact, you can study with her in winter 2014 if you're wanting to hone your creative writing.) She is also assistant director of the summer teen workshop show:tell at Marylhurst.

Jay Ponteri

Ponteri published his memoir in March 2013. Wedlocked has been hailed as "daring" and ruthlessly examines marriage, monogamy and desire. David Shields, author of Reality Hunger, said, "Very few [books] if any risk the level of intimacy, candor, and rawness that Jay Ponteri's book does." The Los Angeles Review said: "Sometimes filled with raw sexual ambition, other times quietly sad and contemplative, Ponteri dares memoir to go in a bold direction, with precedence on the intimacy between writer and reader." And Paste Magazine applauded Ponteri for the way in which his lyricism "flirted" with the formal narrative essay.

Ponteri has visited local community colleges and shared his memoir with students, sharing about nonfiction writing and the emotional difficulty that can accompany the genre. He has taken Wedlocked to bookshops throughout the city, engaging the same questions. And he tackles those very topics as the director of the creative writing program in the Department of English.

At a recent reading, Ponteri acknowledged his students. "You have taught me what it means to be passionate, humble, and thankful. And I am grateful to you," he said to them.

Ponteri teaches a wide range of courses, from introductory literature to senior creative writing workshops. His classes are often informed and influenced by his creative expertise in poetry and creative nonfiction: Contemporary American Literature and the Rise of the Short Story, Creative Nonfiction, Form and Technique, Short Fiction and Short Prose Forms.

Ponteri and Serber join several others within the English department to publish creative works. Susan Denning, John Caruso, Joan Maiers, Ger Killeen and Marian Pierce have produced works that have appeared in literary journals, national magazines and received awards.

Sharing the craft of writing

In each case, the writing instructors at Marylhurst are practicing what they teach. And it helps students hone their own writing craft. As English student Dawn Riviere said, "I can walk into Powell's Books and point out Wedlocked by Jay Ponteri or Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber, and say 'I learn from these people. They care about my growth as a writer.' That means something, not just to me personally, but to my friends and family who want me to be successful in my craft. They can see that my teachers are good at what they do and know that I am learning from great writers."

Riviere noted that the instructors within the English department truly care about her writing: "Because of their attention, my writing craft has drastically improved."

To others who are wanting to improve their creative writing, Riviere gave this advice: "You should take a class from Natalie Serber or Marian Pierce. They are tough, excellent teachers, and you will most likely have your ego bruised during the course, but if you take their instruction to heart they will help your writing improve by leaps and bounds."

That, undoubtedly, is the very reason our instructors teach in the first place.

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