F&M Stories

Want to Be a Writer? Hausman Speaker Shares Surprising Advice

Writing Rule No. 1: You need the right jacket.

That is, at least, according to Julie Otsuka, Franklin & Marshall College's 2022-23 Hausman lecturer.

On Sept. 13, the novelist and short story writer shared her unofficial rules of writing with eager students at the Writers House. That evening, she delivered a lecture at the Barshinger Center for Musical Arts.

Established through an endowment by Richard Hausman '50, P'85 and Edna Hausman P'85, the Hausman Lecture has brought prominent writers to campus for lectures, readings and workshops for the past 40 years.

"That suede jacket — the 1980s equivalent of the beret of the 1950s — was aspirational. It signified something slightly out of my imaginative reach: Novelist," said Otsuka, who at the time was an aspiring painter.

The jacket, by the way, was a gift from Kabi Hartman, senior teaching professor of English at F&M, while the two friends were living in West Berlin.

Twenty years ago, Otsuka visited F&M for the College's first Emerging Writers Festival.

"Thank you to F&M for taking a gamble on me," she said. "I had no idea where my career would go professionally as a writer."

Now the author of three novels, Otsuka is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Her first two books, "When the Emperor Was Divine" and "The Buddha in the Attic," focus on the experience of Japanese-Americans in the 1900s.

Otsuka's latest novel, "The Swimmers," is a departure from serious fiction, "but the closest to my natural voice," she said. Otsuka read a passage of the work at her evening lecture.

The style deviation from her last two novels was something Otsuka discovered, in fact, through her own rules of writing.

Writing Rule No. 23: It's okay to break the rules.

"As long as you do it with style and originality, you can break any rule you want," she said.

A passage from "The Swimmers," by Julie Otsuka
The moment I see that painted black line, I feel fine. Above ground, many of us are ungainly and awkward, slowing down with the years. The extra poundage has arrived. The letting go has begun. The crows feet are fanning out silently, but inexorably like cracks on a windshield from the corners of our eyes. But down below at the pool, we are restored to our old youthful selves.

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