Writer-in-residence Rolnick bases Brown Bag lecture on Week Three theme



Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

Josh Rolnick, prose writer-in-residence for Week Four, will fuel his experience at the Writers’ Center with what he has learned on the grounds as a Chautauquan.

For his first trip as writer-in-residence, he wanted to center his Brown Bag lecture on the week’s theme, “Inspire. Commit. Act.”

“People really think deeply about a particular theme,” Rolnick said. “I really love it when not just the lecture of the day but some of the other events throughout the day are linked to the theme.”

He will present “The Tug of Stories” at 12:15 p.m. today on the porch at the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall to help inspire Chautauquans to write, get them to commit to it and take action by actually doing it.

“When I say ‘the tug of stories,’ I mean I have literally been moved by fiction in my life, and I literally remember reading stories and having just an emotional reaction,” Rolnick said.

He will speak about how novels and short stories inspire readers and how they can stimulate commitment, acting and the entire process itself — along with some of the stories that have inspired him.

“Writers don’t write to see themselves in print,” he said. “They write, ultimately, to commit an effect on people, to move them, to reach them.”

Sometimes the simplest of stories can challenge a writer to create a work readers can empathize with and enjoy, which was the case for his short story “Mainlanders.”

The story follows two adolescent boys who want to ask two girls on a date, and though it seems straightforward, Rolnick said the story took him 13 years to write. After working with the two girl characters, he finally found a way to make readers understand the characters’ motivations, and he finished the story.

One of the most influential lessons he learned when he started out was to write — and write a lot. He said it’s vital to write the first draft from the subconscious and not allow anything to interfere — you just have to write before it can be judged or edited.

“Revising is not re-thinking so much as it is re-dreaming,” he said. “It’s a notion that you don’t brainstorm when you’re trying to write fiction — you literally dream-storm.”

Rolnick said people attend Chautauqua’s programs to be inspired by new things, ideas, people and arts — to be exposed to new and interesting information. He wants his lecture to be a two-way discussion about how fiction is inspirational.

Clara Silverstein, director of the Writers’ Center, is thrilled to have Rolnick at the Writers’ Center this week. During the 2011 Season, he gave a reading at the Open Mic, and with the release of Pulp and Paper last fall, this year’s appearance is perfect timing.

Pulp and Paper is the 2011 John Simmons Short Fiction Award Winner, and his writing has been published in a variety of publications, including Harvard Review, Storyville and Gulf Coast. He is the editor of an independent literary annual, Unstuck, and the publisher of a Jewish ideas journal, Sh’ma.

“My hope is that people will leave the talk and want to run out and read a wonderful book,” Rolnick said.