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Lit Fest: Carmen Maria Machado brings a lively discussion on life and writing to Given Auditorium

Carmen Maria Machado spoke, read, and responded to questions from a panel of English majors with creative writing concentrations, including Dominic Bellido, Maisie Elkins, Harry Kassen, and Annabelle Williams. 

This event, immediately after the Maine Lit Fest kickoff event in the Museum, was presented by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and the Colby College Creative Writing Program and introduced by Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Sarah Braunstein. 

Machado’s statements on writing come from using images and photos to inspire. 

She read from and referenced her recent work of speculative fiction, “Inventory.” Machado actively writes about human interaction, pandemic problems, reactions to current climates, and practically everything else, with a fantastical flair for surrealism. 

The insightful craft questions from the student panel led Machado to pose a question all writers should ask themselves: “what do I want to say and how do I want to say it?” 

Machado further explained her sometimes abstract process of forming ideas in one drafting experience. She said a few times, “I could feel it before I could describe what it was about.” 

Her real talk on how it works to sell a story was met with warm laughter from an attentive audience, most of whom have studied literature and probably read her writing. In a world of deceptively non-linear publishing, Machado shared how she wrote relentlessly in the midst of working other jobs to make ends meet, and was able to produce her best work and how she continues to do so. 

“The work is getting the book written that you want to write,” she said. “You have a lot of time, and you have to write the book that you’re going to be proud of, that burns inside you.” 

Machado is an award-winning author who has published a memoir called In the Dream House and short story collections, such as Her Body and Other Parties. She also referenced a story “The Husband Stitch,” which has been taught in several English classes at the College.

In the theme of taking advantage of “the gift of having teachers who are writers themselves,” as Machado called it, the panel conversation was full of writing advice. Braunstein mediated with thoughtful additions and prompts, agreeing with Machado’s fundamental outlook on creativity when she said there is no reason to worry about cutting lines or even pages when editing; while it may feel reassuring to hold onto it, and Machado keeps a “retired folder – mentally it’s still there, but functionally it’s gone,” writers should have faith in their creativity. 

“You always will generate more, that’s what you’re learning how to do when you write,” Machado said reassuringly.  

People like to have rules about writing, such as what kinds of subjects and points of view to avoid, but writers always find counterexamples. The only rule, according to Machado, is that every great writer must be an avid reader. 


~ Molly George `23


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