Dan Torday: Bringing Literature to Life at Arcadia
By JEN RETTER ’16
Photography CHRISTINA YEE ’14
Every seat in the Grey Towers Castle Rose Room was filled by aspiring writers and book buffs eager to learn more about novella writing and the fiction genre from Dan Torday, author of the The Sensualist, on Nov. 14. Additional rows of chairs were set up as more and more fans came in from the cold.
Among the crowd were students who read The Sensualist in the Interpreting Literature course taught by Professor Tom Hemmeter, who organized Torday’s visit to Arcadia. “We’re reading literature in drama, poetry and fiction. I’m always keeping my eyes open to current literature,” said Hemmeter. “I met Torday at Bryn Mawr College, and he talked about publishing [The Sensualist.] I started to read it, and it was a well-written page-turner. It was also about high school, which I thought would be interesting and relevant to the college freshmen [in Interpreting Literature].”
The Sensualist tells the story of 17-year-old Samuel Gerson, whose worldview changes after he befriends an uncompromising Russian Jewish immigrant named Dmitri Zilber.
“The subject matter is people in their teens coming into adult problems. This book got your interest in sophisticated ways; for instance, there were references to two famous authors, Dostoevsky and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The writing was very, very good,” said Hemmeter.
Torday began with a reading of The Sensualist, providing the audience with a glimpse of the first chapter, before skipping ahead to share a portion of the middle of the novella. Hemmeter commented, “People could learn about fiction and what it means from [The Sensualist.]”
Immediately after the reading, Torday gave the audience the opportunity to ask him questions about his novella and fiction writing in general. “I talked to my class, and even those who weren’t as entranced by the fiction liked [Torday] because he was so direct and honest,” said Hemmeter, who appreciated the young author’s blend of humor and applicable writing advice.
During the Q-and-A, Torday was asked whether or not he was concerned with writing about such a popular topic: World War II. Torday, who was inspired by his own culture, heritage and family when writing The Sensualist, replied: “The contemporary writers that I like can find a subject that interests them, and make it fresh and new.”
Torday also described his writing process with the audience, joking that out of the 3,000 words he writes a day, “2,000 are terrible.” Nevertheless, Torday, who likened himself to a sculptor diving in to mold his clay, went on to explain, “Our subconscious is much smarter than we are.”
Emphasizing the importance of “doing” in terms of writing, Torday shared how he’s able to stay motivated to push forward in his process as well. To stress his belief that being a writer takes daily focus and progression, he said, “You don’t teach someone to play violin by saying ‘Sit down and think about music.’”
As the workshop came to an end, the audience was offered the opportunity to meet Torday, purchase a copy of The Sensualist, and get their book signed by the up-and-coming author. Students in the crowd even conversed with Torday about their own fiction writing. To Hemmeter, there was no mistaking what the reactions of this large audience signified: “Literary culture is alive and well on Arcadia’s campus.”
Arts at Arcadia
Arcadia University’s Visiting Writers Series welcomes author Tom Franklin on Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. in Lecture Hall 107 located in the Rose Room, Grey Towers Castle. Find out more about the event.