Q+Reads with Emily Nemens

Report by Lea Steinmetz (Bachelor's student Archaeology)

The Picador Guest Professorship for Literature at the University of Leipzig was held by the author, illustrator and editor Emily Nemens in the winter semester 2022/23. After serving as Associate Editor of The Southern Review, a literary journal at Louisiana State University, from 2018 to 2021 she served as Editor of The Paris Review, a pre-eminent literary quarterly in the United States. During her time at both magazines, articles published there were nominated for various awards. Since 2021 she has been the editor-in-chief of sports at Stranger's Guide.

On January 26th and 27th, 2023, Emily Nemens attended the Q+ program as part of the Q+Reads event. The event takes place every semester in cooperation with the Picador Professorship Program. The seminar started with a public reading of her debut novel The Cactus League, which was published in 2020, followed by a Q&A session. Nemens accompanied the reading, in which she presented parts of three chapters, with images of the setting of her novel, the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Salt River Fields, which opened for baseball spring training in 2011. The students had little prior knowledge of baseball. But through the story, driven mostly by unique and beautifully drawn characters, the unknown became familiar and the sport understandable even without conceptual knowledge. During the dinner that followed, numerous questions were answered, ideas exchanged and various forms of storytelling discussed.

The following day, a creative writing workshop was held, for which Nemens had provided the students in advance with four texts to prepare. The texts were the following short stories, which were absolutely worth reading: "Night at the Fiestas" by Kirstin Valdez Quade, "Good Boy" by Eloghosa Osunde, "Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain" by Jamil Jan Kochai and "The Outfield", an early version of a chapter from Emily Nemens' novel. Final questions about the texts had been clarified a week earlier in the preparatory seminar with Christian Knöppler, so that the technical aspects of writing character-based short stories could be focused on in the workshop with the author.

After considering from which perspective characters can be seen - we dealt with the view from the first, second and third person singular - we were given a questionnaire on character traits, the so-called Proust questionnaire, to come up with our own character or to describe one we already had in mind. For this character, we were given various writing assignments with the goal of illuminating them from different angles. Afterwards, some read out their writing exercises and we discussed them as a group. Finally, we were given a final exercise where we were assigned to describe the same situation - the bride does not come to the wedding - from the first, second or third person point of view with characters of our choice. The resulting stories were sometimes suspenseful, sad, or funny, but all were entertaining and none were alike.

Emily Nemens supported the students with constructive advice and her excellent understanding of the technical background of creative writing. The assignments were well chosen and again nicely punctuated with a presentation. The only downside to the event was that it was over so quickly.

On behalf of the participants, I would like to thank the Q+ team for organizing the event and Emily Nemens for making it educational and entertaining.

The Q+Reads series will continue in the summer semester with the upcoming Picador Visiting Professor Salvador Plascencia.

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