This is a reposting on Mary Caponegro's reading for the New Writing Series at UMaine in 2006:
The Experimental Fiction Writer Mary Caponegro0
Posted by Bridget Eileen (Tuesday April 25, 2006 at 10:58 pm)
Periodically on Thursdays at UMaine the New Writing Series brings a writer to read his/ her work for the campus at large. It’s usually English majors and professors that attend, but sometimes other people come as well. Most of the time the writer is a poet. This past Thursday was different.
Thursday’s New Writing Series event veered off of its regular poetry path to feature a reading by experimental fiction writer Mary Caponegro. In his introduction, Professor David Kress described Caponegro’s writing as “near to showing” and marveled about the “mind blowing fashion in which her words roll in us and roll us in.”
Caponegro lived up to such a titillating introduction with her reading.The first story she read was called “Daughter’s Lamentation.” The piece is about a woman’s memories of her childhood, her father, and the house he built. By meandering through the moments in the daughter’s life and expounding upon key details, Caponegro tells a stark story, peppered with ironic humor, and leaves the obvious unsaid to create broader interpretations of exact plot.
The second story she read was “Junior Achievement,” which she described as a story containing “children, dark humor, and pop culture.” Her motivation for the dystopic tale was the real-life tragic death of an abortion doctor in Buffalo. The result was a powerful, absurd, and stark story about three orphaned children - Kaylee, 5, Rob, 9 and Shea, 12. The children’s parents were abortion doctors and were killed, as were all people who had ever performed abortions. The dystopic society in which they live is contemporary, so references to Barbie, GI Joe, Spongebob and board games are strewn throughout the story, usually as a juxtaposition of the lives the children must now lead.
The orphaned children of abortion doctors are the only ones left in society to carry on their parents’ practice. As a result, Shea must teach his little brother and sister how to be surgeons by making them play the game Operation all the time. They have to learn how to successfully inject a needle, and thus practice on an orange every morning.
The patients come to the children’s home - the windows of which are covered in black construction paper - bringing food for the children to eat before the procedure is performed.
Caponegro became the experimental writer she is today by starting out as a poet. While in college at Bard University, where she is now a professor, she was captivated by the work of novelist William Gaddis. This led her to pursue fiction. She said that she always had a supportive education and was encouraged. And finally, in graduate school at Brown University, she “really began to cultivate what I do now.”
The most distinctive aspect of Caponegro’s fiction is how different, how non-linear it is from usual fiction.
“I can’t think through things from A to Z, so my stories come together elliptically.”
Caponegro’s fiction is fascinating in its irreverence but in addition to that, her reading on Thursday was noteworthy in its delivery. The rhythm and intonation of her voice was captivating.
“I write out loud,” Caponegro said. “It’s very fussy and it takes a lot of time.”
The result is worth it, however, as her fiction has a definite musical quality.
It is always a remarkable occasion to emerge from a literature reading inspired and intrigued. Caponegro captivated her audience in just such a manner.
Ye Olde Bloggens are re-posts of old blogs
The following post was originally posted on one of Bridget Eileen’s old blogs: In the Pines, Neophyte Poetics, Bridget Eileen’s Commonplace Book, Dreaming Bridge Designs or A Vegetarian Notebook. They aren’t all fancy with photos and subheadings and search descriptions, or even that much content, sometimes. They’re here for posterity, because it’s fun to read the archives!