Story by Yashowanto Ghosh, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Lisa Lenzo
Essayist and fiction writer Lisa Lenzo read two of her short stories at the Wege Ballroom at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16, to kick off the 19th season of Aquinas College’s Contemporary Writers Series.
Growing up in the big city of Detroit, Michigan, Lenzo made education a prominent aspect of her life. Upon graduating high school, she attended Western Michigan University, graduating summa cum laude with a degree from the MFA program.
Lenzo first read from her first book, the collection of short stories Within the Lighted City, which was picked by Ann Beattie for the Iowa Prize in 1997. The story she read, Stealing Trees, is narrated by a white male teenager, and Lenzo, already standing at the podium, put on a cap backward in order to get into character before she started reading. But, other than that one detail, the first piece was a good classical author’s reading—the author, the text, and a glass of water—with its emphasis firmly placed on the story and not on the spectacle.
The other piece on the program was a short story from Lenzo’s latest book Strange Love, which was published in 2014 in the Made in Michigan Writers Series of Wayne State University Press. The story, Flames, was not just read from the podium by Lenzo, but rather performed by her and two other actors as a dramatic reading. Lenzo herself voiced the narrator, a second actor voiced the narrator’s daughter (who is also the piece’s protagonist)—this actor sported eye-catching red hair like the character—and a third actor voiced the other two characters in the piece, a bus mechanic and a lawyer. The three actors utilized most of the stage, with the area behind the podium serving as makeshift wings, and with a table with three chairs set up at the other end of the stage across from the podium serving as the playing area. The effect of this, while a lot less realistic than that of a stage play, was somewhat more than that of a radio play, since the actors made abundant use of gestures and facial expressions throughout the performance.
The evening ended with a brief session where Lenzo took questions from the sizeable audience, who asked about such things as her writing habits (she said she follows a schedule of writing every day) and the sources of her stories (she said a lot of her work is largely autobiographical).
In addition to her 1997 Iowa Prize achievement, Lenzo is also a recipient of many other awards, inlcuding a Hemingway Days Festival Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award, and she was the 2013 first prize winner in a contest sponsored by the Georgetown Review. Notable works of hers have been included in publications such as the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Mississippi Review Prize Issue, Tales from the Concrete Highway, NPR radio, and many more.
Aside from writing, Lenzo drives a school bus in the afternoons so she can focus on her writing in the morning. Aquinas College is not a remote and far trek for her, as she resides near Saugatuck with her husband.
The remainder of the current season of the Contemporary Writers Series will feature the following: memoirist Carlos Eire on Tuesday, November 10; memoirist Mardi Jo Link on Tuesday, March 15, 2016; and poet Edward Hirsch on Thursday, April 14, 2016.
About the Writer…