To a roomful of eager listeners at Philadelphia Alumni Writers House, author Carmen Maria Machado said, “You have to be open to the weirdness of inspiration.”
She came to Franklin & Marshall College Feb. 28 to judge this year’s Jerome Irving Bank Memorial Short Story Prize, which is open to submission by any F&M student.
“Writing often fails because it sounds like writing,” said Machado, artist-in-residence at the University of Pennsylvania. “Good writing feels inevitable. It’s born out of need, of impulse.”
Machado’s debut short story collection, “Her Body and Other Parties,” was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Kirkus Prize. She is the winner of the Bard Fiction Prize.
Machado delivered a crowded craft talk Wednesday afternoon, attended by students, faculty, and Lawrence Henry Bank, Esq. '65, benefactor of the prize. At the talk, she discussed her favorite subgenre.
“I begin with a thesis: All stories are haunted house stories,” she said. She discussed the way humans infect architecture and how the corners of the mind can fill with nightmares.
Later on, at a cozy evening reading, Machado read “Inventory,” a story from her collection.
In judging short stories, Machado looks for “gorgeous sentences, a scintillating premise, emotional gut-punches, and psychological honesty. Effective writing is emotionally true from the page level all the way down to the word,” she said.
She found these characteristics in the work of government major Liam Chan Hodges ’19 of Haiku, Hawaii, who won the $1,000 Bank Prize for his story, “Shotguns and Angels.” Chan Hodges is currently studying abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Izzy Buck ’21 of Doylestown, Pa. and Dan Lee ’19 of Demarest, N.J., both undeclared, were runners-up for their stories, “King of the Woods” and “Milk,” respectively.
Machado offered time for questions and answers and encouraged aspiring writers to read as a means to writing. “Read as much and as widely as possible, and write genres, themes, and modes that challenge and excite you,” she said. “You have to read to write.”
“Think of the story as a space,” she added. “Commit to writing the stories that only [you] can tell.”