The UConn Creative Writing Program hosted nationally acclaimed memoirist Emily Rapp Black at Barnes and Noble on Tuesday evening. Rapp shared an excerpt from her creative nonfiction novel “The Still Point of the Turning World,” which was published in 2013. She also spent the latter half of her visit answering questions about her writing background and personal creative process.
“The Still Point of the Turning World” is Rapp’s second memoir. Her first, “Poster Child” (2007), recounts her experiences as an amputee. As a six-year-old child, her leg unfortunately had to be amputated due to a congenital birth defect. As a result, she was chosen to be the poster child for the “March of Dimes,” a nonprofit organization that works to improve the health of mothers and babies.
Rapp’s second memoir, which was featured during the reading, tells the heartbreaking story of the life and death of her son Ronan Christopher Louis. Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs at nine months old, which is a fatal progressive disease that doesn’t yet have a cure. Throughout the powerful memoir, Rapp poses numerous existential questions that come hand in hand with the imminent death of a child. She finds herself using her own writing as well as the work of some her favorite authors to cope with the immense grief she is feeling. “The Still Point of the Turning World” was a New York Times Bestseller, Editor’s Pick and a finalist for the PEN Center Literary Award in Nonfiction.
When asked how she manages to excavate these painful memories without wanting to lay down and cry, Rapp informed the audience that sometimes it’s okay to put your work aside and pick it back up when you’re feeling less overwhelmed. She suggested finding a way to put your mind at ease. For her, this was watching an action movie with her husband. This mental reset is greatly important for her creative process. She made sure to explain to the onlookers that one doesn’t have to be actively suffering to write about suffering.
Rapp stays motivated to write about difficult topics by reminding herself that if she doesn’t write about it, someone else will. While studying religion in college, she quickly realized that readers gravitate to the topic of death. Whether someone is about to die, thinking of dying or already dead, death is an extremely intriguing subject to readers. Rapp deeply explores this topic in her second memoir. She shows readers what the true nature of death looks like, reminding the audience that, “You don’t know life until you know death.”
Rapp also gave aspiring writers some advice regarding the use of dialogue and how to reflect on their own personal experiences to make a compelling narrative. In terms of dialogue, she prefers a style which she refers to as “floating dialogue.” This technique sets a scene and allows the reader to hear a voice without there being actual dialogue involved. Rapp explains that writing good dialogue is difficult. She would rather go straight to the punchline and skip any unnecessary discourse.
When posed with a question about using personal experiences to craft a narrative, Rapp offered an interesting exercise. She told the audience to pick the first five moments that come to mind when they think of their life, then try to write down every sensory experience they can remember when they think of these moments. Finally, she tasked them with adding a captivating image to accompany each moment.
Rapp concluded her talk by cluing the audience in to her favorite word in the English dictionary: Shimmer.
. Matthew Souvigney is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.