writer

The Harry Ransom Center acquired the archives of late Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. The center plans to make them available to the public by fall 2015.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center

Annotated manuscripts, photographs and letters belonging to the late Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez have found a resting place at the Harry Ransom Center, the University announced this week.

At the age of 87, García Márquez, a Nobel laureate and author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” died in April, leaving behind more than 2,000 letters, more than 40 photograph albums, original book manuscripts and the drafts of his unpublished book, “We’ll See Each Other in August.” The center expects the archives to be catalogued and open to the public by fall 2015.

In December 2013, months before García Márquez’s death, representatives of his family contacted the Harry Ransom Center to propose an arrangement for the archives, said Steve Enniss, director of the Harry Ransom Center.

“I think the reason that we were approached before anyone else was is really due to the Ransom Center’s reputation as one of the finest cultural archives in the country,” Enniss said.

The family’s decision may have also been influenced by the center’s location, which, Enniss said, serves as a gateway to Central America.

According to Enniss, he and Jose Montelongo, the Mexican materials bibliographer for the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, traveled to Mexico City, where García Márquez spent his final years, to review the archive materials. Montelongo said García Márquez’s work will interest researchers of various disciplines, but literary scholars will especially enjoy the writer’s manuscripts and drafts.

“You can see García Márquez editing himself,” Montelongo said. “This window into the work of the artist is of tremendous value for anyone interested in literary creation.”

Despite some controversy over the final location of the collection, Montelongo said the University’s high-ranking programs in Latin American studies made the Harry Ransom Center an appropriate home for García Márquez’s work.

“LLILAS is one of the best for the study of Latin America and the Benson Collection has been collecting Latin American materials for decades, so the interest in Latin America is nothing new,” Montelongo said.

According to a University statement, the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections will support the Harry Ransom Center catalogue the archive and plan future events and exhibits.

Alicia Santana, Latin American studies senior, said she would like to see the archive’s manuscripts.

“I’m kind of a writer, too, so I would be interested in seeing that thought process from someone who’s so great at it,” Santana said.

Achy Obejas, a distinguished writer at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., gives a lecture on queer issues in Cuban culture. 

Photo Credit: Remy Fine | Daily Texan Staff

At a talk discussing queer issues in Cuban culture Monday, Achy Obejas, a Cuban-American writer and LGBTQ advocate, noted the achievements of Cuba’s movement toward equality but said there is still progress to be made.

Naomi Lindstrom, acting director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, said Obejas brings a well-balanced perspective to the discussion of Cuban issues.

“She’s not at all what you would think,” Lindstrom said. “She’s not totally critical of the Cuban government. She’s not totally supportive. She takes what I consider [to be] a very measured outlook of everything that came out of the Cuban Revolution.”

Obejas said that since the early 21st century, treatment of the LGBTQ community in Cuba dramatically shifted from a place of persecution and marginalization to a place of tolerance. According to Obejas, tolerance does not mean acceptance. 

Obejas said that most of the changes could be attributed to Mariela Castro, founder of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), a government-funded body that advocates for LGBTQ issues.  

Mariela Castro is the daughter of current Cuban president, Raul Castro. 

“What makes Raul Castro’s daughter’s pet project of homosexual acceptance truly ironic is that he is who is widely credited with being the driving force behind the creation of Cuba’s most notorious anti-gay campaign, the Unit for Military Production, also known as the UMAPs,” Obejas said.

Obejas said the Units to Aid Military Production, otherwise known as UMAPs, formally unacknowledged by the government, were detainment facilities for homosexual citizens as well as other political dissidents.  

Obejas said that despite the government’s silence on the subject, Mariela Castro was able to make gender issues part of the national conversation.

CENESEX pushed for a law that provides government-funded gender reassignment surgery to Cuban citizens who request the procedures. Obejas noted that, while the center’s accomplishments have made significant strides toward tolerance, there is still progress to be made within the movement.

According to Obejas, the ability for citizens to surgically change their anatomy doesn’t release them from societal gender pressures, just as the existence of an LGBTQ movement hasn’t eradicated homophobia. 

“The truth of the matter is that the harassment of gays is a pretty continuous and daily event in Cuba, particularly in Havana, where the capital police are notoriously violent,” Obejas said.

David Glisch-Sanchez, a sociology graduate student, said he enjoyed the fresh perspective given

James Magnuson’s new book, “Famous Writers I Have Known” offers a saterical perspective on the writing world and recalls many of Magnuson’s daily tasks at The Michener Center. The novel centers around Frankie Abandonato, a con man who poses as a resident writer at the Fiction Center, which is based off UT’s Michener center.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

For the past 20 years, James Magnuson has been waking up early to write before coming into work as the director of the Michener Center for Writers.

Magnuson’s newest of nine novels, “Famous Writers I Have Known,” gives a satirical look into the workings of the Master-of-Fine-Arts culture. The plot centers on Frankie Abandonato, a con man who pretends to be V. S. Mohle — a resident writer at the Fiction Center, which is based on UT’s Michener center. In the novel, the Fiction Center is funded by author Rex Schoeninger, who is a transparent version of the Michener center’s namesake, James Michener.

UT’s Michener center is a three-year residency program for aspiring writers. Students can apply to concentrate in one of four writing fields: fiction, poetry, screenwriting or playwriting, and receive a $27,500 stipend each year. With an acceptance rate hovering around 1 percent — the center only accepts 12 writers each year — it is recognized as one of the top creative writing programs in the country.

Magnuson came back to Texas and took the director position in 1994 after a stint as a television writer in Hollywood. He said that at first the Michener center job was just a salary to support his writing career, but he began to love his students and care about their careers.

“Teaching has become an important part of my life,” Magnuson said. “You know you start thinking about this when you become an old dog. You start thinking about your legacy. I’m so proud of all of these young writers who have done so well. You know it’s interesting how personal it can be, the idea of creating an institution.”

It is his work directing the Michener center and building its reputation that has allowed him an insider view into the world of MFA students and famous authors. He used these observations as the basis for “Famous Writers I Have Known.” 

“I have known Jim Magnuson for a long time,” said Stephen Harrigan, a faculty member at the Michener center. “We are close friends so I read the book in advance years ago, and I thought it was a brilliant and subversive look at his own profession. He knows the world he’s writing about intimately enough to kind of sabotage it in a way.”

“Famous Writers I Have Known” is both a satirical look at the writing world and a recollection of Magnuson’s daily task at the Michener center, one of which is picking up authors at the airport with only a jacket photo as identification. This is how Abandonato’s character was formed. 

“I came up with this idea of a con man passing himself off as a writer, writers not being that different anyway in some cases,” Magnuson said. “They are both liars, con men and writers. They are both inventors, and they’re self-invented.”

Michener wrote more than 40 different and popular books throughout his career, but he received little recognition as an author of literary merit. He left all of his money to the University to create the Michener center.

“I think that what [Michener] got really right was the way there is this kind of towering presence that is infused into the life of the program,” former Michener center student Dominic Smith said. “As a student, there was never a time I got a stipend check that I didn’t think, ‘This is coming from the Michener estate.’”

Michener’s life inspired the book’s second plot, as Magnuson was able to observe it first-hand. The two worked together for many years, and Magnuson saw the sadness under Michener’s generous front.  

“I knew Michener the last 10 years of his life, and I was very aware of lots of people trying to get a hold of his money in one way or another,” Magnuson said. “He had no children. There was something very painful about it.” 

“Famous Writers I Have Known” is a satire, and one of the most obvious objects of satirization is Michener through Shoeinger. Magnuson was careful to show the duality of Michener. While Michener was caring and giving for the most part, he was also troubled and could be somewhat difficult to work with. 

“On one hand it is fictionalized,” Magnuson said. “On the other hand, I would say that he wasn’t always easy near the end of his life. He could blow up from time to time. It’s much different having to work for someone as opposed to having them shower you with all this largesse.”

The students and their writing workshops were playfully mocked in the book, but Magnuson said the students are not based on anyone in particular. 

“I feel like some of the dialogue in his book came from real classes that I’ve had with him, but students of past years will say the same thing because writing workshops have something kind of repetitive about them,” former Michener center student Domenica Ruta said. “They all fall under similar structures. There are different types and tropes, and [Magnuson] captures them all very well.” 

The book’s satire is not hurtful or mean-spirited. Instead, it points out poignant truths about Magnuson’s experiences with the Michener center, and writers in general. 

“My feeling is everyone gets dusted up a good amount in the book but everyone gets their dues,” Magnuson said. “There are different kinds of comedy. There is some comedy that really is totally vicious and delightful and there’s other comedy that is a little gentler and warmer. This is not the most savage book. I hope people can be moved by it, and I hope people can laugh.”

Read a review of "Famous Writers I Have Known" here.

Junot Diaz’s writing is not an ordinary kind of beautiful. 

Harsh, vulgar and devastatingly sincere, his work explores the complex, difficult lives of characters trapped in a rarefied space between two worlds. With one foot in the United States and the other in the Dominican Republic, Diaz’s characters provide a glimpse into an existence where belonging is always just out of reach; an existence that closely resembles the author’s own experiences as an immigrant. 

Diaz is the author of  “Drown” (1996), “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007), and last year’s collection “This Is How You Lose Her” (2012). 

The Daily Texan: Your writing has a really distinctive voice. How did you develop that?

Junot Diaz: Part of it is strategic, I mean, I guess I should begin with, part of it’s practical. You’re looking for something that feels organic, something that comes closely out of your own sense of the world. So, you know, I kind of wanted something a little forceful, a little intimate. And then part of it is strategic. I needed a voice that could cover up some of my high-level interests. So I’m often thinking and writing about things which I want embedded in the text, but obscured. So it’s kind of, you know, this energetic, personable voice helps me to do that.

DT: What’s your writing process like? Are you a morning or an evening writer? Do you drink?

JD: Yeah, no, I don’t drink. What I do is I get up early in the morning, usually as early as I can get it, and I sort of have some strange, like, some strange sort of restriction. As soon as I have spoken to someone, I cannot write. So I have to write in the first silences of the morning.

DT: How do you get inspired to write something?

JD: Well, usually it’s a question that has tumbled around in my head for quite a while. I think that what happens is, on top of that, what I read often provides me with an enormous amount of inspiration. A story or a book will summon up inside of me a challenge to write something that speaks to that story or that book. But also, my neighborhoods in both Cambridge and New York City also bring a lot to the table. Often I just walk around my neighborhood and see and hear and feel and experience and smell things that set off a spark in me, of creativity.

DT: Is there an aspect of your writing that you wish people would focus on less?

JD: Well, I think that as a writer, what ends up happening is that you’re not — well, we’re in a culture these days where people spend lots of time talking about and writing about actual writing, and they’d rather spend time talking about and writing about the writers. It’s not any aspect of my writing, I just wish that, you know, that folks would pay more attention to the books themselves. I promise you, you can go on radio, or go for an interview, and the conversation will almost invariably be about you and less about the book.

DT: As a professor of creative writing, are there any tips you have for students who are interested in writing?

JD: Well, I mean, it’s funny, because nothing has changed in dozens of years. The most basic rules still apply. The most basic rule is, you have to live your life in the world, and you have to read.

DT: Is there a book that you think every college student should read?

JD: No, but I do think that every college student should read. I mean, I have personal favorites. I think every college student should be conversing with Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” but, you know, there are more college students than my taste can begin to describe. I think the idea is less that every college student read “Beloved” and more that every college student should have a book in their own head that they think every college student should read.

DT: Are there any writers today that you think should be getting more attention?

JD: Oh, so many. I think Samuel R. Delaney, I definitely think that’s a writer that not enough people pay attention to. I think the writer Coco Fusco, there’s another one who, again, who, in a better world, would be more well known.

DT: What do you think that teachers of writing should do more of with their students?

JD: I mean, I know what I wish I could do less of. I think I should teach less writing and teach more reading.

DT: What are you reading right now?

JD: I’m reading Roger Crowley’s biography of the city of Venice called “The City of Fortune.” That book has been kind of a study companion with me for the last couple of days. I’m reading Hilton Als’s “White Girls.” Those are the two books I’ve been reading.

DT: Do you have a favorite book?

JD: Oh, no, I mean, that’s too much, you know?

DT: Are you working on anything right now?

JD: I’m not, actually.

DT: What can we expect during your visit to UT on Monday?

JD: God, if I could tell you! I mean one of the reasons I do this kind of traveling, beyond just the obvious pumping up the book, is to have conversations about art, and the role of art in society. I think if anything there will certainly be some of that.

HASTINGS, Mich. — A burglar expressing guilt about stealing $800 from a western Michigan store three decades ago has repaid the money, plus some interest.

The writer admitted breaking into the Middle Mart on Michigan 37 in Thornapple Township north of Middleville about 30 years ago.

In an unsigned letter packed with emotion and spelling errors, the writer asks for “help in locating a man” to whom the writer owes the money.

The $1,200, while it includes some interest, falls short of making up for the loss in the dollar’s purchasing power over the intervening years. The stolen $800 would be worth about $1,800 today, based on changes in the consumer price index.

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) take another long stroll in “Before Midnight.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

 

“Evil Dead” (91 minutes) – Friday, March 8, 9:45 p.m., Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.

South By Southwest’s opening night has always been genre-heavy, and this year they’re coming out swinging with “Evil Dead,” the highly anticipated remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic. A few blood-soaked trailers make the cabin-in-the-woods tale look bug-nuts insane, with the same aggressively horrific tone Raimi’s film struck so well the first time. If nothing else, this is going to be one of the goriest films ever to screen at the Paramount, and promises to be one of the must-see events of the festival.

“V/H/S/2” (95 minutes) – Friday, March 8, 11:59 p.m., Topfer Theatre, 1510 Toomey Road

“V/H/S” was the best horror film at SXSW last year, and the sequel premiered at Sundance to massive acclaim. Directors Jason Eisener (“Hobo With a Shotgun”), Eduardo Sanchez (“The Blair Witch Project”), Gareth Evans (“The Raid: Redemption”) and Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” also playing at the festival) each contributed segments to the found-footage horror anthology, and that particular mix of voices and sensibilities is easy to get excited about.

“A Teacher” (76 minutes) – Saturday, March 9, 11:15 a.m., Violet Crown, 434 W. Second St.

Lindsay Burdge stars as an Austin high school teacher having an affair with one of her students in this well-received Sundance carryover. The film’s material could be presented as pure titillation, but early trailers make it look urgently arresting and show off remarkable focus from writer and director Hannah Fidell.

“Much Ado About Nothing” (107 minutes) – Saturday, March 9, 1 p.m., Vimeo Theater, 201 Trinity St.

Joss Whedon’s modern take on Shakespeare’s classic manner of comedies brings together the casts of almost everything Whedon’s ever worked on, casting a sense of playfulness to the delightful “Much Ado About Nothing.” A low-stakes charmer, the film is a faithful adaptation that still manages to surprise thanks to Whedon’s affable love of wordplay and his ruthlessly funny cast’s full-blown commitment to the material.

“Some Girl(s)” (89 minutes) – Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m., Topfer Theatre

Neil LaBute, adapting from his own play, penned “Some Girl(s),” which stars Adam Brody as a writer whose impending marriage sends him on a tour down memory lane, visiting several of his life’s most significant loves. While the setup isn’t exactly original, LaBute’s acerbic wit and sardonic worldview should lend the film an unexpected edge, and co-starring turns from Kristen Bell, Zoe Kazan and Emily Watson make up an interesting ensemble for Brody to bounce off of.

“Before Midnight” (108 minutes) – Saturday, March 9, 9:45 p.m., Paramount

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are the central focus of what may be the first romantic trilogy in film history. “Before Midnight,” the newest installment, finds the pair once again wandering a European city, chatting and coming to terms with how their lives have changed since the last film. Writers Hawke and Delpy and director Richard Linklater so fully understand and embody these characters that a third installment of this series is a can’t-miss film.

“Mud” (130 minutes) – Sunday, March 10, noon, Paramount

In just three films, Jeff Nichols has practically mastered the art of telling stories about Southern masculinity, and “Mud” is his most gorgeous work to date,
featuring a marvelous performance from Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive who befriends two young boys. The film has a bafflingly strange slot at the festival, with its only screening taking place at noon the day after daylight saving time kicks in, but it’s well worth getting up early for. It’s one of the only films at SXSW that’s being screened in 35mm, and Nichols’ stunningly beautiful direction demands to be seen on the big screen.

“Hours” (97 minutes) – Sunday, March 10, 9 p.m., Topfer Theatre

Paul Walker stars as a father forced to keep his newborn’s ventilator powered via a hand-crank battery in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. “Hours” has a gripping premise and high stakes, and Walker has surprised us before in this sort of ticking-clock thriller. The film’s trailer promises nonstop intensity, and should be a great alternative to a cup of coffee for audiences looking for a shot of adrenaline.

“Big Ass Spider!” (85 minutes) – Monday, March 11, 11:59 p.m., Alamo Ritz 1, 320 E. Sixth St.

SXSW’s midnight slot is notoriously eclectic, but there’s always one title so audacious that you practically have to see it, and this year, “Big Ass Spider!” is that film. When an unusually large spider starts wreaking havoc, it’s up to exterminator Greg Grunberg to save the day. “Big Ass Spider!” looks like an absolute blast, fully embodying the pulpy, schlocky spirit of its midnight movie origins.

“Grow Up, Tony Phillips” (90 minutes) – Tuesday, March 12, 7:15 p.m., Vimeo Theater

Local director Emily Hagins has made four feature films, and she’s not even old enough to buy beer. Her newest film, “Grow Up, Tony Phillips,” was funded via Kickstarter, and focuses on a high schooler struggling not to outgrow Halloween, his favorite holiday. Star Tony Vespe has consistently been the funniest part of Hagins’ previous films, and it’s great to see him hoisted into the spotlight for one of the festival’s most interesting homegrown premieres.

“Milo” (85 minutes) – Thursday, March 14, 9:45 p.m., Paramount

Ken Marino is one of the most underrated funnymen working today, and the very thought of him playing a man who discovers that his intestines are home to a baby demon is funny enough to get me in the theater for “Milo.” Directed by UT alumnus Jacob Vaughan, the film’s impressive cast and hilarious premise should result in one of the festival’s strangest comedies. 

“The East” (116 minutes) – Saturday, March 16, 8:00 p.m., Paramount

Zal Batmanglij came to SXSW in 2011 with his debut feature, “Sound of My Voice,” an engaging sci-fi-tinged exploration of group mentality and faith. Collaborator Brit Marling stars once again, this time as a high-level operative sent undercover into an anarchist group targeting large corporations. The first trailer for the film was unnerving in all the right ways, and Marling’s voice as a writer seems to be getting sharper with every film. SXSW chose this as its Closing Night film, an enormous vote of confidence in one of the most anticipated films of the festival.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s new album Live from Alabama captures the raw energy of the band’s live show in a hometown setting. While the album isn’t likely to draw in new listeners, fans of roots rock and country will enjoy it (Photo Courtesy of Joshua Black Wilkins).

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Live from Alabama
Artist: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Album: Live from Alabama
Label: Lightning Rod Records
Songs to Download: “Outfit,” “Like a Hurricane”

Since parting ways with the Drive-By Truckers in 2007 to embark on a solo career, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jason Isbell has maintained a steady stream of quality album releases that has mirrored the consistency and prolific output of his former band. Sirens of the Ditch marked a promising solo debut for Jason Isbell. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit hit a new stride in 2009, and Isbell displayed progression as a writer and performer on 2011’s Here We Rest.

Live from Alabama, out Tuesday from Lightning Rod Records, captures the raw energy of the band’s live show in a hometown setting. Recorded during two sold-out shows, one at the WorkPlay Theater in Birmingham, the other at the Crossroads Cafe in Huntsville, the album features 13 songs that span Isbell’s career, from his tenure with the Truckers on up through the present day.

The 400 Unit, composed of keyboardist Derry DeBorja, bassist Jimbo Hart and drummer Chad Gamble, performs these songs with seemingly effortless precision, providing a sturdy framework for Isbell’s husky baritone. The songs themselves, like much of Isbell’s work, revolve around stories of growing up in the South and the angels and demons that hide in the shadows of Southern small-town America.

The set opens with “Tour of Duty,” the closing track from Here We Rest. It serves as an appropriate introduction for a band that has played hundreds of shows each year since its formation in 2009. Isbell then reaches back six years for “Decoration Day,” the title track to the 2003 Drive-By Truckers’ album.

After blasting through another DBT classic, “Goddamn Lonely Love,” the band then launches into a spry rendition of Candi Staton’s 1970 single “Heart on a String,” originally recorded by the Alabama R&B singer at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

“Danko/Manuel,” another holdover from Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers days, follows, featuring a guest brass section of trombone, trumpet and saxophone. “In a Razor Town” from Isbell’s 2007 debut, displays some of his trademark lines that parody life in the South: “In a Razor Town you take whoever you think you can keep around.”

The same can be said for the two subsequent songs, “Alabama Pines” and “Outfit.” The latter, which is another song culled from Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers output is a song he wrote for his father with trademark Southern wit: “Well, I used to go out in a Mustang / a 302 Mach 1 in green / till me and your mama made you in the back / and I sold it to buy her a ring.”

“Cigarettes and Wine,” “TVA,” “The Blue” and “Dress Blues” lead up to the record’s final statement: a blistering cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.” Isbell’s voice sounds clean and raw, and the Alabama crowd clearly enjoys every minute of it.

Isbell keeps the between-song banter to a minimum, instead focusing on the performances of the songs themselves. The limited stylistic range is not likely to win over many new fans from outside the spheres of roots rock or country, but for fans of the genres, Live from Alabama captures one of the best singer/songwriter-and-band combinations doing what they do best.
 

Quick Takes

Kid Rock – Rebel Soul
Artist: Kid Rock

Album: Rebel Soul
Label: Atlantic
Songs to Download: “Chickens in the Pen,” “Let’s Ride”
 

After actually coming close to artistic respectability with 2010’s Born Free, the Detroit rap-rocker returns to what he does best: writing and recording songs about strippers, white trash and every kind of sleaze known to the back rooms of Heartland America.

Rihanna – Unapologetic
Artist: Rihanna

Album: Unapologetic
Label: Def Jam
Songs to Download: “Diamonds,” “Pour It Up”
 

The prolific pop diva releases her seventh album since 2005. Highlights include the bombastic “Diamonds,” the Mike Will collaboration “Pour It Up” and the dance-infused Chris Brown duet
“Nobody’s Business.”

Elvis Costello – In Motion Pictures
Artist: Elvis Costello

Album: In Motion Pictures
Label: Hip-O Records
Songs to Download: “Accidents Will Happen,” “Seven Day Weekend”

This compilation presents a set of 15 songs by the British pub-rocker that have been featured in films. The collection showcases Costello’s ability to write cinematic, theme-oriented music while also serving as a comprehensive survey of his ever-evolving 35-plus year career.

Printed on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 as: New release infused with Southern charm

Dear Life
Author: Alice Munro
Genre: Short stories
Publisher: Random House

At age 81, Alice Munro’s preoccupations as a writer have scarcely changed from what they were in the bold, raw work of her early career. 

In her collection of short stories, “Dear Life,” isolated, ambitious, unusual and almost exclusively female protagonists grapple with love, parenting and marriage in the grand desolation of rural Canada. Munro does not write about these capital-letter topics as they are commonly served, steeped in cultural distortions, but as they are experienced: love as it is felt, gripping and improbable; motherhood, so far as it is managed; and marriage as it is, more often than not, endured. As a writer, Munro is understated, controlled and wary of metaphor. Her legacy is one of depth, precision and, perhaps, even perfection.

She has a knack of rendering “ordinary” lives so artfully that they become singular, thick with their own meanings. In “To Reach Japan,” for example, one understands instinctively how a mother’s mind would reel with what-ifs after losing track of her child, how a particular sort of young man befriends children “to test [his] own charms,” and how an anonymous poet might feel more comfortable at a party full of boring engineers than at a gathering of her fellow writers.

Though the geographic scope of Munro’s work has not altered as she has aged, the chronologies of her stories have lengthened to span lifetimes. Stories in “Dear Life” often begin in a time when “having any serious idea,” as a woman, “let alone ambition, could be seen as suspect, having something to do with your child getting pneumonia,” and extend into a near-present landscape of retirement homes and high-rise apartments.

One of the pleasures of reading Munro’s short stories is experiencing their unpredictability. In long-reaching narratives like “Amundsen” and “Train,” Munro moves unhurriedly, and often non-sequentially, through the twists and unexpected turns of real lives. In “Train,” the reticent protagonist, now middle-aged, sees a beautiful grey-haired woman at the hotel where he works. Readers learn, after 20-odd pages of unrelated story, that this lady is an old sweetheart who he abandoned in the pivotal decision of his life.

Unlike the first few stories of the collection, which are vivid in their precision, Munro’s vision in some of the later stories feels zoomed out, though still in-focus. In “Gravel” and “Haven,” first-person narrators grope back through vast swathes of time to ruminate on events from their childhood. This narrative style presents, at times, more of an impediment than an entry point to Munro’s glimmering, snow-shagged world.

The last four works of the collection make up a separate section that is, according to Munro, “autobiographical in feeling.” Munro writes that these “not quite stories” are, “the first and last — and the closest things I have to say about my own life.” Though written from the same distant vantage point as “Gravel” and “Haven,” these stories hum with a richness that those fictional stories lack.

Munro rejects the sometimes too-tidy purposefulness of the short story in these nearly autobiographical works, weaving together loosely related anecdotes about her vexatious mother, blue-collar father, her gutsy maid, Sadie, and a prostitute whose vivacity thrills Munro’s young female narrator. When a neighbor enters briefly into one such anecdote, Munro comments on the divergence of fiction and biography: “Roly Grain, his name was, and he does not have any further part in what I’m writing now, in spite of his troll’s name, because this is not a story, only life.”

Dear Life

Printed on Monday, November 19, 2012 as: Short stories span across lifetimes

Sameer Bhuchar has worked for the Texan since his freshman year. In four years with the paper he has covered a number of sports, served as editor of Double Coverage and as sports editor. Bhuchar is often caught reading old issues of his work to promote feelings of self-righteousness.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

As I write this column on Thursday (yesterday), the sports office of The Daily Texan, as I’ve known it for the last four years, has remained relatively unchanged. The red couch with pillows bursting at the seams still festers with the stench of sweaty writers who plop on the couch regularly after coming back from some availability or another to furiously file a story. The small tube TV sitting on top of a ruddy filing cabinet is still missing the power button and the remote only functions when you hold it at just the right angle from just the right distance.

The sports section’s proudest issues from the last decade are still taped to the walls, while some of our least favorite issues litter the desks, floors and recycling bins. The front door has the writer’s job application folder ­— the same one I pulled my application out of as an 18-year-old — as well as some photos of jokes and office memes throughout the years. There are the same three Mac computers in here, but that damn computer in the back corner still doesn’t turn on.

In a couple of months this office of solitude in the back corner of the dungeon won’t exist. Someone thought it’d be a great idea to gut this place up and herd every department’s reporters into one general room. Yuck.

I jest, of course, because along with the University, I fully understand that the Texan has been evolving for a century. Since I’ve worked here, mulling through The Daily Texan archives quickly became one of my favorite things to do on campus. We’ve got some papers that date all the way back to 1912, and it’s amazing to think that for more than a century students have toiled to churn out this paper.

Right now I’m looking at an issue from Nov. 16, 1912. The front page’s headline story of the day? “Texas Overwhelms Mississippi; 53-14.” Seems like football was still the dominating presence way back then as well. Apparently the Longhorns played a great game. According to the reporter who recapped the article, Texas’ game featured a bevy of “beautiful runs, pretty forward passes, and lightening-like plunges.” There are ads from piano players offering there services to frat houses for what I can only assume was the 1912 equivalent of a rager. And there are so many advertisements for suit dealers and laundromats and barbers that UT must have had some fresh looking kids back then. I wonder what they’d think of the oversized frat shirts and Nike shorts combo?

I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by the old issues, but maybe it’s because the further into the past I travel, the less I have to deal with the reality of one day not working here. Why? I have no idea. When you descend the office stairs that lead to the basement, you feel like you’re walking into a horror movie, and sometimes you might as well have. If I had a dime for every nightmare I’ve violently woken up from fearing a misspelled headline, a misplaced caption, replacing a writer’s name from “Christian” to “Christina,” or a poor critique from Doug [Daily Texan’s editorial adviser] , I’d be a rich man.

Turns out, I’m not the only one with these horrific dreams. Ask any of the two-hundred odd student employees that oil this machine, and they’ll tell of the cold sweat that keeps them up at night hoping their story, page or edits look right. Journalists are a bunch of masochists, but sometimes for good reason.

I’ve done a lot in my time on campus, and nothing really compares to working at this place. I’ve hated and loved every minute of it so much that I’m not sure I’ll be relieved or sad when it hits me tomorrow (today) that I’ll never have a hand in the production of the sports page again. It’s been a fabric of my experience at UT that has taught me more about hard work, the importance of diligence and mental fortitude than most of my classes. It’s challenged me, beat me up, and kicked me in the crotch a few times, but it also afforded me the opportunity to interview incredible people, pick the brain of Mack Brown and work with talented, driven students.

One day I’ll come back and sift through the archives again, while a new batch of reporters crammed in the middle room of the office stare at what they’ll assume is some old fart being creepy. I’ll look back at the 2008-2012 range of sports pages and see the work I put in as a young buck on the women’s swimming and diving beat, to the editor of Double Coverage and the sports page and feel proud of most of my work while laughing at some of it as well. And hopefully this place will be around another 100 years so the sports editor, who will probably be covering a robot version of football by then, can open to a dusty 2012 edition with the same feeling of romanticism that gets me when I open 1912’s.

If you’ve made it this far through this column (read: stream of consciousness) then just know this: The Texan is a nice place to cement yourself within the bricks that build this university, an even better place to meet amazing people and the best place on campus to learn a lot about yourself and what you’re made of.

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For professional women, mothers and college students, putting down that BlackBerry, ditching the cellphone and distancing from a laptop for a few hours can be a challenge.

Dean Lofton, an Austin writer and publicist, encourages women of all ages to do just that in her workshop, “Writing Your Life as a Woman.” While Lofton, a University of South Carolina alumnus, has a jam-packed resume of work as a freelance writer, associate editor of a magazine and production manager of a television commercial production company, she has been encouraging women to let go of technology in her workshop for 15 years.

“I think it’s a really different experience to write by hand, because our lives are so tied to technology,” Lofton said. “Creativity does not thrive on efficiency, so it’s giving yourself time to ponder ideas.”

Lofton teaches both single classes and four-week sessions of the workshop to women of all ages, ranging from college students to women into their 80s. The women come from all shades of the professional spectrum, Lofton said, from stay-at-home moms to high power business executives. For two hours, cellphones are left in another room, and the women sit in a circle and are prompted to write and share their thoughts with others if they choose to.

Upon signing up for the class, women fill out a contract with guidelines such as “I absolutely, positively, swear I will not apologize before reading my writing out loud,” and “No matter what topic is suggested, I will always be true to my heart and mind and follow my pen where it leads me.”

“Writing serves everyone whether you’re trying to write a novel or not,” Lofton said. “This is more about the joy of the creative process of writing. It’s good for the soul and it enriches your life.”

Lofton said she recognizes the initial difficulty in detaching from technology, but said she sees positive results from each of her students, whether or not they considered themselves writers before enrolling in the class.

“Sometimes, people do get frustrated because they’re not saying anything meaningful,” Lofton said. “It’s like learning to run — the first time you go out, you don’t run a marathon. It’s really different than the way our day-to-day life works, which is based on efficiency and speed. This is about stepping outside of that, and that can be really discombobulating for people.”

For a working writer used to dealing with nagging deadlines and pressure to perform, taking time to slow down and journal by hand provides a nice contrast, Lofton said.

“I think that it does make me sort of ponder sometimes when I feel pressured about any kind of deadline,” Lofton said. “It’s such a contrast to that peaceful time with my journal. It really sort of opens your mind up to the fact that there are other ways to operate, to not just be on this track to meet deadlines.”

And while Lofton’s class is based on writing by hand, she said technology is still a large part of her life and professional work.

“I’m not at all anti-computer,” Lofton said. “I’m all over Facebook and I do PR work, but for this experience, it’s really about having that digital retreat. It’s an amazing shift that people get.”

Much of Lofton’s early work is focused on women’s rights, which she said she tries to encompass in her class.

“When women have a group together, it’s a different energy, and I feel like there’s a need for it,” she said. “We still have a lot of rights issues. I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough.”

Lofton said she tries to instill a love of writing and an appreciation for oneself in the women in her class.

“I really want them to realize that they have fabulous stories and that they’re great writers,” Lofton said. “Everybody is a writer, and I want them to get the joy of writing as a process instead of the end result.”

Jen Mulhern, an Austin-based cellist, has taken Lofton’s class three times over the past two years, and said she used the class to help develop her songwriting skills and continue to journal.

“It’s a welcome release for me,” Mulhern said. “I’m looking for these opportunities to find benefit from writing things down by hand. I depend on technology, and it’s a welcome release just to turn it off and have my sloppy handwriting.”

Melissa D’Antoni, an Austin-based painter with Fire Tree Studios, said she likes that Lofton writes along with her students, creating a comfortable atmosphere that encourages everyone to write.

“It is just a wonderful way for women to come together and write and share stories and express those feelings,” D’Antoni said. “Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, but it’s a really safe place for people to express things without judgment and to be heard.”