Posted on October 31st, 2022 in Blog
by Carrie Lynn Sickmann
by Sabrina Moreira-Pereira
The Rufus & Louise Reiberg Reading Series at IUPUI is hosting a reading by Darius Stewart on Thursday, November 3rd, at 7:30 p.m. in the IUPUI University Library Lilly Auditorium. Darius Stewart is the author of a book-length collection of poems, Intimacies in Borrowed Light (EastOver Press, 2022), as well as the chapbooks The Ghost the Night Becomes (2014), 2013 winner of the Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Competition, and two titles selected for Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Choice Chapbook Series: Sotto Voce (2008) and The Terribly Beautiful (2006). His poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in The Brooklyn Review, Callaloo, Cimarron Review, Fourth Genre, Salamander, Verse Daily, and others. Stewart received an MFA in poetry from the Michener Center for Writers and an MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa. In 2021, the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame honored him with their inaugural Emerging Writer Award. He is currently a Lulu “Merle” Johnson Doctoral Fellow in English at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Recently, Mr. Stewart took some time to answer a few questions about his writing.
Did you read and write growing up?
Yes, I read voraciously growing up. Though, unlike many of my peers who are also writers and/or career students (those with multiple MFAs and a PhD, etc.) I didn’t read what you would call “serious” literature. In my early youth, my list included The Baby-Sitters Club, A Wrinkle in Time, Encyclopedia Brown, Beverly Cleary (the Ramona books and The Mouse and the Motorcycle), Superfudge; though, as I got older, especially when I entered my preteen years, I read a lot of genre fiction writers: Stephen King, Michael Chrichton, and John Grisham, namely. I’m sure I’m forgetting many other books and writers, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind. I also wrote during this time what I didn’t know were essays. Only until I won a writing contest sponsored by Modern Woodmen of America, when I was in the fifth grade, did I have a name for what I thought was just writing. They were attempts, according to Montaigne, at using my own (albeit limited) experience to write about the world around me. Eventually, I tried my hand at writing stories, inspired by Stephen King, but I never quite took to the mechanics of writing fiction—especially character and plot development. Perhaps if I’d known what I know now about how writing can defy genre categories, I might have attempted a fictional style or technique that I would’ve done more to hone. I didn’t start writing poetry in a serious way until I was in college, and for a while, I was quite proud of calling myself a poet. But I’ve since returned to the essay, though I often deploy poetic devices and fictive techniques in what we call (my) creative nonfiction.
You have a lyrical way of writing, and I noticed you have a playlist on your website. Would you say that music plays an important role in who you are as a writer?
Yes, music has been very important to my writing. Though only when I began writing poetry did I need music to accompany me, and even then I could only listen to orchestral music, nothing with lyrics or a recognizable or popular melody—so no Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, for example. Because I played a musical instrument (the clarinet) throughout high school and three years in college, I have a deep appreciation for this type of music, and so writing while listening to the various instruments creating this beautiful, polyphonic sound and texture opens a space for my abstract ideas to take shape, become concretized in language. You might say that music allows me to write—especially poetry—constantly in this ekphrastic mode, except I wouldn’t go so far as to say that each poem (or essay) I’ve written while listening to music is in some way responding directly to the music per se, as a sort of recreation of it, but rather the music gives me permission to engage in these flights of fancy (as one of my colleagues described my writing) that became necessary to sustaining in my poetry (and in my writing generally) the lyrical quality that you mention.
Who are some of the creatives that have influenced you? What writers/artists would you recommend?
I just recently answered a similar question. But one thing that I’ll say that’s different from my previous response is that very often the writers/artists who talk about their influences seldom discuss—on a somewhat granular level—the nature of that influence. To give you an example, I recently read Outline by Rachel Cusk for a class I’m taking on memoir and autofiction. In discussing the book, I noted how dialogue that is spoken by characters other than the narrator is often filtered through (or re-articulated by) the narrator in what I called an act of self-reflexive ventriloquizing. Others might call this technique a form of paraphrasing, except, I think the narrator takes it further; the details we receive through this filtration (or re-articulation) are too vividly rendered to be mere paraphrasing. Therefore my reading of Outline becomes wholly dependent on this one formal characteristic because it presents a narrative possibility I hadn’t yet considered. And since I’m currently working on a nonfiction project that requires me to reconstruct scenes (including dialogue) that need to reflect how the speaker’s memory is highly speculative, this notion of self-reflexive ventriloquizing as a mode of speculative imagining is very enticing as a result of having read Cusk’s novel. So, to answer the question regarding what writers/artists I would recommend, I would need to know what inspiration does one hope to draw from these writers/artists? But, for reasons I can elaborate on at another time, I’ve recently read or intend to read: Alive at the End of the Worldby Saeed Jones,A Woman’s Story andSimple Passion by Annie Ernaux,Punch Me Up to the Godsby Brian Broome,Belly of the Beastby Da’Shaun L. Harrison, Stag’s Leapby Sharon Olds, andMargery Kempeby Robert Glück. I’m looking forward to readingThe Sexual Life of Catherine M.by Catherine Millet,Don’t Cry for Meby Daniel Black,Orphic Parisby Henri Cole, andI Love You But I’ve Chosen Darknessby Claire Vaye Watkins.
What was your first publication? Are you as proud of it as the day it was first published?
I honestly don’t remember what my first publication was…lol I would like to say that I’m proud of it—still—since I would’ve written it when poetry was the only genre in which I wanted to write.
What’s a question you wish more people would ask you about being a writer?