What Is Left Unsaid: Unconventional Storytelling in Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation and Other Contemporary Works by Women (Delve Seminar)
Tuesdays, February 21 – April 4 (No Meeting March 28th) 6:30-8:30 p.m.
“What I try to capture as a writer is the feeling of being alive, of being awake. Because of this, I’m more apt to follow the wisp of a thought or a half-glimpsed image than chart a sequential series of events. But I absolutely believe in momentum. Momentum is not plot, but it has that same quality of urgency and forward motion.” — Jenny Offill
In Jenny Offill’s second novel, Dept. of Speculation, she distills her narrative about new motherhood, an endangered marriage, and a crisis of identity into hundreds of episodic vignettes—some of which are only a sentence long, while others make up the length of a paragraph. For the reader, it feels as if we are delving into a person’s riveting journal that brims with disconnected musings, quotations, trivia, secrets, memories, and experiences. Eventually, a story forms from these juxtaposed fragments, and the space in between them becomes just as important as the prose itself because it invites the reader to draw the necessary connections that deepen the story and propel it forward. How does a writer employ compression and fragmentation while preserving momentum and emotional velocity in a story? What is gained and lost when a writer intentionally sheds storytelling conventions? How do these techniques reflect or enhance (or detract from) the content and themes of the work? Offill’s novel is a slim 177 pages and a fast read, so we will have time to examine shorter works and excerpts by other contemporary women writers who employ similar techniques and explore similar themes such as Mary Robison, Jennifer Egan, Renata Adler, Helen Oyeyemi, Maggie Nelson, Zadie Smith, Lydia Davis, Sandra Cisneros, Dao Strom, and Anne Carson.
Guide: 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.