Elwork, Reale Converse on Conflict, Form and Philosophy

By schwartzsa | July 8, 2011

The Bird Sisters, a blog dedicated to artists and writers, recently featured a conversation between novelist Paul Elwork ’04M and fiction writer, poet and Faculty Librarian Michelle Reale 96,’99M. The two Arcadia alums talk about creative philosophy and form as well as Reale’s thought-provoking experiences guiding students in the Preview course, “From Sicily to the Italian Market: Global Migration in Italian/U.S. Contexts,” which investigated the historical and current processes of transnational migration and cross-cultural interaction.

PE: What are your thoughts on writing in longer forms? I find it fascinating how writers are drawn to different forms, like visual artists using certain materials, or singers working in different keys. Do you have any plans for longer works or any in progress?

MR: I hear this debate a lot with writers: whether to write in longer form or not, especially if they’ve been writing short, short prose. No one ever asks a poet that question! I have long considered myself a miniaturist—even when I was writing (awful) stories that were 10–12 pages long. What I was trying, all that time (I now realize) was to get to the shorter form.

PE: Sure, that makes sense—and it isn’t a matter of right or wrong, but one of personal inclination. I remember Joyce Carol Oates writing somewhere that any literary idea can be expressed in a poem, a short story, or a novel—it’s just a question of how you want to feature it stylistically, what kind of effect you’re going for, etc. I completely agree. You’ve got to go where your interest takes you and trust that.

MR: I am more and more interested in distillation, how to use fewer words. I use Virginia Woolf as my guide and concentrate on those “moments of being”—when I can see and feel an entire world in a gesture, or the look on a face. I also work in themes. Right now I am pursuing a certificate in Peace Studies because I am interested in all of the conflicts and revolutions in the world. As a result, I am writing prose poems about my experiences abroad and my encounters with immigrant populations, fleeing turmoil in inhospitable places. I was in Sicily twice in April and witnessed the not-so-ambivalent feelings the Italian government has toward those fleeing their countries (especially North Africa) to its shores. I am Italian-American and this moved me profoundly. I had the opportunity to speak with men from various countries that have been stripped of dignity, trying to make a new life there. I saw with my own eyes the confiscated boats where they seize these people (mostly men) and detain them or make their lives miserable enough until they leave for somewhere else, other places that also don’t want them.