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Comment: Why don’t students go to the Writers Readings?

writers reading

Photo by Jenny Fisher

Last Wednesday at Scott House, Giller-shortlisted Trent Alumnist Craig Davidson (Rust And Bone, Cataract City) gave a candid and entertaining reading and Q&A session as part of the second installment of the ‘Writer’s Reading Series’ hosted by the English Department.

Born in St.Catherines, Ontario, Davidson, who was a Classics student affiliated with Peter Robinson College at Trent, rose to prominence with the release of his first anthology of short fiction Rust And Bone (2005). Rust And Bone would go onto be made into the film De rouille et d’os (2012) (which received a 10 minute standing ovation at Cannes that year) by acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard (whose prized hat, Davidson purports to have ruined during a meeting in one of Davidson’s many stories told that night). Of Rust And Bone Davidson said “You’ll never write a book like your first one. Each book after never has the same fearlessness and rawness, after your first one there’s always the advice, the criticism etc.–there’s a self-consciousness to them.”

His debut novel The Fighter (2008) was widely acclaimed by many, including Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh. To promote it, Davidson’s publisher even booked him compete in a boxing match against poet Michael Knox (Davidson lost).

His most recent work Cataract City (2013) was shortlisted for the Giller Prize.

Writing under the pseudonym ‘Nick Cutter’, Davidson has also published a variety of horror and genre fiction. The division between genre and literary fictions is something that Davidson spoke about a lot. Speaking about the decision to use pseudonyms, he says “I was not entirely into the idea, but I trusted my agent.” Davidson then went on to say, “It’s like for a lot of publishers, they have this idea, that the public are just going to have their minds too far blown if they’re confronted with the possibility that two completely different works could come from the same person. But for me personally, I’m as proud as the literary stuff as the horror stuff,” adding “to me it’s all literature.”

It was a wonderfully informative and candid event with one of the best contemporary Canadian authors (who is often compared quite favourably to Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk) and the second great installment of a truly remarkable series hosted by Trent’s English Department (and supported by many others including the Cultural Studies department and the Frost Centre).

So why the fuck aren’t any English students going to these things?

First off, let’s get some premature apologies out of the way– if you’re one of the 4 or 5 students that have actually attended, or you have some legitimate reason (work, class) then I’m sorry…to the rest of you- why are you wasting your/your parents’/taxpayers’ money by attending this school?

Seriously, no other department at Trent gives you a weekly opportunity to actually meet, schmooze with and learn directly from the very people who are successfully making a career at the actual stuff you’re studying and yet for two weeks in a row, 90% of the attendees at the WRS were over the age of 50.

Someone might respond with ‘yes but young people today are more interested in the internet than literature’, fair enough- but then why are they bothering to study English at all? That’s what makes Trent’s English students such a fucking embarrassment to the student body as a whole– they seem to be studying in a field which has all the same concerns about post-graduate employability as the rest of the traditional Liberal Arts programs, while also seeming to not give two shits for the very thing they’re studying.

You can question the practicality of studying Philosophy, Gender Studies, Sociology, etc. in today’s job market and with today’s tuition costs, but when you see the passion for the field that those students have for their studies (for example, attending department events that are far, far more boring than the Writers’ Reading series) you ‘get it’, and it’s easy to understand the trade-offs that they’re willing to make. In fact, it’s not just understandable- it’s downright admirable.

For English students however, it seems that they are going thousands of dollars into a debt for a degree with comparatively fewer job prospects, AND that they couldn’t care less about. If you’re an English student, whatever you plan on doing with your degree, your degree is worth exactly as much as people care and get excited about things like fiction, poetry, drama etc.– so if you don’t care about these things, if you don’t get excited about those things (or at least not excited enough to attend a free event featuring someone who has succeeded in a field you are studying to be a part of, and then attend a free reception with free food (Nachos!)) then why should anyone else and why are you EVEN HERE? It’s like you’re entire time here is spent performatively disproving the value of the degree you hope to obtain.

Even if you’ve never even heard of any of the authors, there is so much to learn about writing, publishing, contemporary debates about literature etc., that these kind of events are indispensable to anyone actually looking to make a career (or even a just a passion pursuit) in the field. Are there just enough authors in the series writing about vampires/dying/people in love? What would it take to get the drool-encrusted floaters populating English classes around Trent to actually show up to these indisputably remarkable events?

The Writers’ Reading series will move to Tuesdays for the next two weeks and *maybe* that will get more people out.

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