Living Writers: McCann and Celona

The applause that greeted Marjorie Celona this past Thursday, November 1, in Persson Auditorium did not just express a warm welcome to Colgate, but a warm welcome back. As a former Olive B. O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University, Celona was received by a packed auditorium, many of whom were students and faculty with whom she had worked with during her year-long stay in 2010. Walking onstage following Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Pro-fessor of English Jane Pinchin’s words of welcome, Celona stated her happi-ness at being able to once again thank the University and faculty for the year of support and advice that had propelled her to success.

Celona’s talent with words is clear. Author of the novel “Y,” Celona’s work has appeared in The Best Nonrequired Reading, The Harvard Re-view, Glimmer Train and Crazyhorse, among other publications. Celona received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was the recipient of the Ailene Barger Barnes Prize. “Y,” her first novel, has been nominated for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize and is soon being printed in five additional languages.

Celona’s raw talent, evident in the success of even her earliest works, is what drew Colgate to pick the Canadian-born author for its prestigious pro-gram. The Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship is one of Colgate’s funds designed to improve certain programs and areas of study already offered by the Uni-versity. In particular, the O’Connor Fellowship is designed to not only to en-hance the creative writing program for the University’s students, but support writers in the completion of their first novel. The two writing fellows chosen each academic year are given a stipend, office space and the ability to engage with the university’s supportive intellectual community. Each fellow is also asked to give back to Colgate by teaching a creative writing workshop and giving public readings of their work during their stay.

The short story from which Celona read, published in The Harvard Review, explores the subject of marriage through the startling backdrop of a geomag-netic storm that is about to hit earth. The electric storm, which is composed of particles about to enter the atmosphere, has forced the main character, Har-rison, to rent a hotel room from which to watch the storm. A mix-up forces the introverted 30-year-old to share his rented suite with two other strangers and to encounter a night of events that prompt him to re-evaluate his flawed marriage.

Celona’s book “Y” explores the story of Shannon, who, left at the doors of the YMCA as a newborn, grows up trying to uncover the identity of her birth mother. As “Y” delineates the interwoven narratives of Shannon and her mother, the 17-year-old daughter ultimately learns that the answer to her questions of “why” may not be nearly as important as she once believed.

Concluding one of her many visits to Colgate, Celona shared intimate sto-ries from her years as a fellow, from nights at the Hourglass with colleagues, to the doubts she had experienced regarding the potential for her own stories. Re-garding such doubts, Celona spoke about her evolution as a writer, explaining how her growing certainty in her abilities had enabled her to write about clich?ed subjects she had previously avoided. Most impressive was the level of excitement Celona has for both her burgeoning success and occasional mistakes. Celona happily shared her excitement about starting work on a second novel.

“When you do anything once, it’s usually a completely wonderful disaster,” she said.

Contact Leah Robinson at [email protected].