Danielle Frandina is an educator, writer, and editor who made Portland her home four years ago. She earned her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts and taught at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, where she chaired the school’s humanities department. Danielle is the founder, curator and host of the Portland reading series Tell It Slant, which is now in its third year collaborating with a variety of communities and venues to feature emerging artists. She is currently working on a collection of personal essays about her hometown and the people in it. Her stories and essays can be found in Numero Cinq, Avalon Magazine, Conceptions Southwest and 1001.
Danielle will guide the Delve Seminar What Is Left Unsaid: Unconventional Storytelling in Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation and Others on Tuesdays February 21-April 4. This class will explore the unconventional storytelling in Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation and similar themes in the work of authors such as Mary Robison, Jennifer Egan, Renata Adler, Helen Oyeyemi, Maggie Nelson, Zadie Smith, Lydia Davis, Sandra Cisneros, Dao Strom, and Anne Carson. Click here to learn more about the seminar.
Q&A with Literary Arts
Could you tell us more about your teaching and literary background?
I taught high school literature and history for fourteen years before moving to Portland four years ago. I loved teaching–particularly guiding students through a novel that moved them, created empathy or shifted their perceptions–there is nothing quite as rewarding as watching a teenager feel transformed by a book for the first time. However, the grading and the administrative work as department chair was killing me. After earning my MFA in Fiction Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I was worried that I would become one of those people who studied the writing craft but never got around to actually writing. So I left my teaching position in San Francisco and moved to Portland, where I took a year to pursue writing full-time. In that stretch of time, I also started Tell It Slant, a reading series for both local and visiting writers that continues to evolve in wonderful and surprising ways. I occasionally participate as an instructor at writing retreats and workshops, and though currently slowed by the responsibilities of raising a 17-month-old, I am working on a collection of essays and short stories based on my hometown in the Colorado Rockies.
What inspired the seminar topic you’ve chosen for “What Is Left Unsaid”?
The first time I read Dept. of Speculation I was immediately struck by Jenny Offill’s style—how masterfully she takes seemingly disparate, compressed vignettes and builds them into a rich narrative. At first, I felt disoriented and curious, sensations I welcome when beginning a novel. The style felt fresh and exciting. The closest variation of this technique I could recall was Jennifer Egan’s short story “Black Boxes,” which was written in 140-character chapters and published serially each day on the New Yorker’s twitter feed before published in its entirety in the print magazine. This is a story we’ll also read in the seminar. Since then, I’ve discovered a handful of authors—all contemporary women—who construct their stories in a similar distilled and fragmented style.
I read Dept. of Speculation again after my daughter was born, and the second time around it was the themes I was drawn to, because I was going through many of the same scenarios and feelings as the novel’s narrator—fretting over how to preserve my writer identity in the midst of caring for an infant and developing a new identity, the strains that early parenthood places on a couple, the postpartum waves of heart-ripping, hormonally-influenced love for your child that feel both ecstatic and terrifying in their ferocity.
Can you give readers a brief glimpse into these texts, and what is significant or unique about what these women authors are doing at this time?
I think now, more than ever, we need to hear women’s stories—all the women’s stories—but particularly the ones that challenge dominant social views on women’s identities and experiences.
Jenny Offill, along with the other writers we will get to sample, is a writer who complicates traditional ideas of what motherhood and marriage look like, and I really appreciate that complexity. She’s not afraid to talk about what is lost and sacrificed when one chooses motherhood.
An excerpt from Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation:
My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him. (8 Offill)