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Short story writer brings wit and humor to reading

By Hannah Rodriguez

Lydia Davis, recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship Award in 1997 and an exceptional short story writer, visited the College on Wednesday, Nov. 4, in the Library Auditorium to speak about her journey as a writer. During her visit, Davis shared excerpts from her most recent collection of short stories, “Can’t and Won’t: Stories.”

“Can’t and Won’t” contains 122 short stories, one of the largest collections that Davis has published thus far. Each story ranges in length and subject and Davis was able to share her passion with the crowd of invested listeners.

Davis began her reading with a story titled, “A Story of Stolen Salamis.” Focused on stolen salamis from a landlord in Brooklyn, the story displays the brevity and miscellaneous subjects of Davis’ work. Many of her short stories hone in on one specific moment or action that one may not typically think to write about.

Davis reads short stories from her latest collection, ‘Can’t and Won’t: Stories.’ (Kim Iannarone / Photo Editor)
Davis reads short stories from her latest collection, ‘Can’t and Won’t: Stories.’ (Kim Iannarone / Photo Editor)

Another story, titled “Letter to a Peppermint Candy Company,” is one of five letters of complaint Davis included in “Can’t and Won’t.” The story is a complaint written to a peppermint company focused on the discrepancies found in the quantity of mints in a package. Both witty and clever, the complaint called for laughs throughout the audience.

During her visit, Davis shared more than 12 short stories and each one presented the audience with a clear sample of Davis’ niche for wit and dry humor. The stories shed light on aspects of life that are not normally brought to light. With such few words, Davis produced humor, darkness and curiosity for readers on various subjects.

One story, titled “Awake in the Night,” is a sweet tale inspired by a dream and reads, “I am lying in the dark. What is the problem? Oh, maybe I am missing him, the person I sleep next to… Now I have the answer. I will go to his room and get in bed next to him, and then I will be able to sleep.”

In no more than one paragraph, Davis’ writing elicits more emotion from readers than other authors could in entire novels.

Davis explained the importance of words, and how, by using a correct few, an entire story can be told. When asked how she developed her writing, Davis said her love of  piano and music are her main influence to write.

“(I) was quite serious about music,” Davis said. “(I) was convinced that the structure and all of the analysis of music, how it’s put together, had a direct influence on (my) sense of structure.”

She attributes her vigorous studying to her sharp listening abilities, a key skill in curating stories. She recalled her “endless hours of playing in tune” and blamed them for her perfectionist qualities that helped her develop “ear training that is very important for writing.”

Davis has written an ample amount of works and provided the audience with her refreshing and unique writing talent.

Freshman English major Tyler Hubbert enjoyed Davis’ ability to “simplify things” and obtained a “new perspective” on the topics she discussed.

Davis’ visit was a part of the College’s Visiting Writers Series. This series presents the College with a variety of authors who are keen in different styles of writing.


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