As Jess Row read the last line of his short story, “A World in Flames,” the audience remained silent, quite literally speechless. Row quietly thanked the audience, who had been raptly attentive throughout the entire reading.
“I enjoy (readings) and they’re a little nerve wracking,” Row said at his reading on Nov. 9. Despite this admission, his reading left an impression on the audience.
“His voice was soothing,” Lisa Kozempel, senior English major, said.
Joe Walsh, senior English major, called the reading “an intimate gathering.”
Row, who was invited to the College as part of the ‘ink’ Visiting Writers Series (VWS), chose to only read the one story.
The story’s plot began simply, detailing a young woman’s unusual visit to Thailand. Gradually, it delved into serious issues such as religion, war and poverty.
“It’s fun to read,” Row said. “It’s dramatic. (The story has) a cliffhanger ending.”
The audience seemed to agree. While Row read, the audience was silent and, during the reception afterward, many students and professors stayed to talk with Row and buy copies of his book, “The Train to Lo Wu.”
“(Row) goes really deep into the characters,” Melissa Kvidahl, junior English major, who helped organize the reading, said.
Kvidahl said that Row’s writing tends to focus on characters and the ways they deal with loneliness.
Maggie Murphy, a senior English major who worked on publicity for the event, considered the reading a success. She called Row’s book “an interesting read.”
Row was emphatic in praising the College and the students who had organized the reading. He said that he was “struck by how closely connected the students are. I was impressed by the whole community.”
“(Row) is different from other authors (who have come to the College),” Bethany Allinder, senior English major and ‘ink’ vice-president, said after the reading.
She was referring to the sharp contrast between Row and author Jonathan Ames, who had visited the College as part of VWS only a few weeks before.
“(Ames) was a performer,” Tim Hinton, junior English major who helped organize the event, said. “(Row) is a writer.”
Melanie Weiss, junior English major, who helped run the event, admitted that Row was a bit less appealing to a general audience than Ames had been, but said, “Our job is not to bring in the most marketable writers. Our job is to showcase those who are making an impact in the literary world and to introduce our campus to new styles and perspectives.”
Row has been featured in numerous publications including The Best Short Stories of 2001, The Best Short Stories of 2003, The Kyoto Journal, The Harvard Review and Slate Magazine.
Aside from being an author, Row is also a professor of English and creative writing at Montclair State University, as well as a dharma teacher.
The next installment of VWS will take place Dec. 7. It will feature Robyn Art, author of “Degrees of Being There” and “No Longer a Blonde.”