Writers-in-residence for Week Two to discuss voice, danger

Aaron Krumheuer | Staff Writer

Toni Jensen

Toni Jensen

The writers-in-residence for Week Two will help writers channel the dead in their poetry and push their fiction characters into danger.

Poet-in-residence Andrew Mulvania and prose writer-in-residence Toni Jensen will lead workshops throughout the week, and both will give readings of their work at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the front porch of Alumni Hall.

Mulvania is the author of a collection of poems called Also in Arcadia, a work based in part on his childhood in rural Missouri, growing up on an 80-acre farm. He is an assistant English professor at Washington & Jefferson College. He was the recipient of a 2008 Individual Creative Artists Fellowship in Poetry from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

This week, he will be leading a workshop titled “Finding Our Own Voices Through Others’ Voices,” an idea developed while he was perusing the biographies of other poets. Their voices came through in his newest work, which summons the lives of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Frost and others.

Andrew Mulvania

Andrew Mulvania

“I just became fascinated with the possibilities for the way which poems could speak other than the traditional lyric ‘I,’” Mulvania said. “You could use the third person and have a kind of character that could still address aspects of your own life.”

While primarily a poet, Mulvania also teaches fiction-writing classes, and the inventiveness seeped into his poetry, he said. His workshop attendees will trace the history of dramatic monologue, try writing behind the masks of fictional and historic figures and, like Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, let characters speak from the dead.

Jensen will work to put workshop attendees’ characters into harm’s way. Jensen teaches creative writing at The Pennsylvania State University. In 2010, her first book of short stories, From the Hilltop, was published. The work throws characters into all sorts of emotional and physical misfortune, from love-gone-wrong to falling off a hotel rooftop.

It’s a necessary technique to reveal character, Jensen said, one she will explore in her workshop called “Good Characters, Bad Decisions: Employing Danger in Short Fiction.”

“Every character falls down at some point if he or she is an interesting character,” Jensen said. “But it’s up to the writer to decide: Did that character get back up? When did that character get back up? How far did they get up — to their knees? Did they stand up and walk away? What happened?’”

Many writers are so attached to their characters, she said, that they give them nothing to do but sit in a corner, like Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and watch the action unfold.

“The character will surprise you if you write well and in the moment,” Jensen said. “Making that shift can be really difficult, but it’s important if the writer’s work is going to move forward.”

UPDATE: The story has been changed to correct Andrew Mulvania’s home state.