On February 12, the English Department Reading and Lecture Series sponsored readings by Olive B. O’Connor Creative Writing Fellows Meehan Crist and Olivia Friedman. Their talent and youthful energy captivated the large crowd that came out to hear both of their work, and it was an event enjoyed by all attendees.
Friedman received her BA from UC Berkeley and her MFA from Iowa University. Among various distinctions, Friedman was also the receiver of the Truman Capote Fellowship. As she approached the podium to read her twelve poems, there were a few surprised faces in the audience. She is a petite and youthful woman, not quite what one might expect.
However, Friedman certainly did not disappoint. Her work was fluid and wrought with intense emotion. She read with a slightly sensual yet crisp voice, bringing each nuance to the surface in a divinely delicate manner.
Only two of her twelve poems were untitled, and when asked if there was a particular reason for this, Olivia had an interesting response.
“I have such a hard time with titles,” Friedman said. “I have high standards for them. I think they should encompass the full meaning of the entire poem.”
Friedman went on to explain that she begins with a “working title,” which aids her writing process. When Friedman finishes a piece, she often changes the title to one that is more meaningful.
Towards the end of the reading, Friedman very eloquently divulged what it was that drew her into poetry.
“I engaged to experience the sublime, the highest part of living,” Friedman said. “I didn’t experience the highest point of that until I started writing poetry…To me that was the epitome of experiencing the sublime.”
Crist, also a current member of the Colgate faculty, received her BA from Barnard University in 2000 and her MFA from Columbia University in 2008. She read from her book in progress called Everything After, a work of non-fiction that weaves the story of her mother’s brain trauma with the history of neuroscience philosophy in a smooth and lyrical style. Crist admitted that she is neither a scientist nor philosopher, but her personal experiences and intensive research bring a unique element to the book. Crist described her writing as a healing process.
“By trying to figure out what happened to her and her brain when she fell, I also explore the history of neuroscience,” Crist said.
After the reading, an enthusiastic student who was certainly inspired by her work asked when Crist knew she wanted to write non-fiction.
Crist explained that when she was spending time abroad at the age of 22, she would send incredibly long emails to friends and family about her experiences there. She was surprised that the reactions she received were not ones in response to her adventures, but rather praise for her beautiful writing.
“I realized you can make literature out of real life,” Crist said. “I guess at some point I just gave myself permission to do so.”