The New Writing Series hosted fiction author Joanna Howard, Nov. 15, at the Bodwell Lounge.
Howard is the author of “On the Winding Stair” and the coauthor of “In the Colorless Round.” Her newest book, “Foreign Correspondent,” will be released in 2013.
Though she originally planned to read from “On the Winding Stair,” Howard instead chose to read several chapters from “Foreign Correspondent.”
“Foreign Correspondent” is a story about Johnny James, a female journalist who writes a domestic, Martha Stewart-type column, yet longs to do more serious work abroad, as the work’s title suggests. Throughout the book, James runs into some interesting characters, including Alfonzo the philosopher, Scooter the cage fighter and James’ best friend, Johnny. The audience listened to James’ conversations and letters with these characters, all of which centered on James’ stalker-like infatuation with Scooter. We hear about James’ encounter with one of Alfonzo’s exotic birds as well a close and personal experience learning to fight.
Howard’s dry and self-deprecating sense of humor kept the audience laughing throughout the reading. James’ thoughts are the kind that everybody has in one form or another but would never admit to anyone. It is this quality that makes Howard’s main character so relatable to her readers.
When she was done reading, the audience was invited to ask questions. One listener asked how Howard does research for her writing.
“I try to find ways to incorporate my current obsessions,” Howard said. Around the same time she began writing “Foreign Correspondent,” she had become interested in cage fighting and even began corresponding with a cage fighter from her hometown, just as her main character did. “[He] had to be a cage fighter,” she said.
Howard also revealed she once wrote articles that she found meaningless. Although Howard wrote articles on environmentally friendly products, such as recycled napkin rings, rather than domestic projects, her similarities to Johnny James became clearer as she continued to answerquestions.
Howard is a literary arts professor at Brown University, where she teaches fiction writing classes as well as a graphic novels course.
In addition to her books, Howard’s work has appeared in “Conjunctions,” “Chicago Review,” “Unsaid,” “Quarterly West,” “American Letters and Commentary,” “Fourteen Hills,” “Western Humanities Review,” “Salt Hill” and “Tarpaulin Sky.” She received her Ph.D in creative writing from the University of Denver and her MFA in fiction writing from Bowling Green State University.
The New Writing Series hosts a variety of authors and poets throughout the semester. Reading events occur Thursdays at 4:30, unless noted otherwise. Cosponsored by the English Department and the National Poetry Foundation, the New Writing Series readings are both open to the public and free of charge.