Tonight I had the honor and privledge of attending Symphony Space‘s SELECTED SHORTS series on Magical Realism. The World of Marevelous Stories was headlined and hosted by none other than literary rock star Neil Gaiman, famous for Neverwhere, American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, The Graveyard Boy, and the Sandman series of graphic novels.
Gaiman was no doubt the headline of the evening, and his short stories (Troll Bridge & The Thing About Cassandra) were nothing short of phenominal.
Gaiman even performed The Troll himself, which was a nice treat- he added emphasis with a unique and exciting blend of both humor and stress to the story. However, writing (like any other job) is a profession of constant turn-overs, and the star of the show was new-comer Kat Howard.
Kat’s short story, titled A Life in Fiction was a fresh twist on literature, and explored the complex relationship between writers and their influences. While the story was first and foremost widly entertaining (and we must give partial credit to Marin Ireland, who performed the hell out of this story), Howard’s writing really stood out. While the story’s humor, content, or presentation. While each of these could each individually merit mention, it was instead Gaiman’s introduction of Howard that deserves further consideration.
Gaiman explained his background with Howard, having met her some years ago at the prestigious Clarion “Boot Camp”. Howard graduated, and some years later, Gaiman explained, he received an e-mail from Howard asking for his opinion on one of her stories: A Life in Fiction. Gaiman enthusiastically affirmed its merit, and soon after offered to publish it in his collection (“creatively named”) “Stories“.
Gaiman then revealed that “A Life in Fiction” was Howard’s debut publication. This was truly amazing, because the story’s development, prose, and complex metaphorical message all show the polish of not only an experienced author, but an experienced human being. One need not look hard, however, to discover that Howard has a wealth of experience writing- as well as the “intangibles” necessary for success- most notably a desire to write with all of her heart.
Howard’s passion for writing does not end with her pen, though. As a fellow and practicing professor at Stony Brook University, Howard has in the past year broken the barrier between contemporary English education and the “new” English genre on campus- the Fantastic.
Because, fantasy is Howard’s passion. Like many readers in 2011, Howard is enamored with the same fantasy novels we all enjoy (including J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia). While Lewis, and other authors, like Tolkien, had a profound influence on Howard’s childhood, as an adult, it has been her desire to merge and, in certain ways, validate the genre of fantasy in an academic environment that have distinguished her courses at Stony Brook University.
In the fall, Howard taught classes on dreams and the fantastic as a place- focusing on world building and the dream as they pertain to literature, and more importantly, the experience these topics have on the reader. This semester, Howard is teaching a course on Geoffrey Chaucer, focusing on the Canterbury Tales, and drawing (refreshingly logical) links between this 13th century genius and the fantastic.
While Howard’s knowledge and work lead her in a definitively ground breaking direction, teaching novels that had (probably) never before seen the English classroom (books like Palimpsest, The Magicians, and The City & The City) she also stands as proof of the direction literature is headed in.
Her indifference towards royalties relating to her work are refreshing in a world where art is under-appreciated, and bedazzled vampires are glorified. SImply put, if aspiring authors wanted to make money, they wouldn’t write. Howard knows this, and writes in her free time, hoping to strike gold. However, It is more than her ability to write that makes Howard special. It is her position as an educator- and specifically, an edcuator who is making accessible stories that might have otherwise been overlooked or felt unaccessible to students (like the Canterbury Tales and Neverwhere) that makes Howard truly unique. Her blend of classical and contemporary passion are really adding something to the academic and literary community, and the value of her work will surely be seen by the public as long as it continues to get recognition by current literary voices like Gaiman and Lev Grossman.
Perhaps Gaiman said it best tonight, when he declared that “one of the greatest joys for writers is re-telling old stories in new ways”. He was talking about his story, “Troll Bridge”, but he was also talking about Howard in a personal and professional way. And he was also talking to me, sitting in row X of the balcony, listening, and about to discover that Kat was telling another version of my first short story. That, for me, was the most magical part of realism tonight.
- Writer’s Eye: The Future of Books