Posted by Shayna Nenni, Fiction Editor for Issue 4.2
Geneseo was incredibly privileged to have writer Leslie Pietrzyk visit our campus, Thursday, February 29th, to give a reading from her book, This Angel on My Chest. Channeling the intimate, personal experience of losing her first husband at the age thirty-seven, Pietrzyk greeted us with humor, sadness, hope, and creativity, reading one of her sixteen short stories. Not only were we lucky enough to hear her read from her marvelous collection, she conducted a workshop (which I was lucky to participate in), and attended classes on campus. I envy students participating in the Converse low residency MFA program where she’s a member of the core fiction faculty, and John Hopkins University’s MA Program in Writing where she teaches because of their chance to learn from and work with her so closely.
Listening to Leslie Pietrzyk’s reading of “A Quiz” from her collection of stories, This Angel on My Chest, was inspiring. She captivated the audience while reading a story about a young widow. The quiz format of her short story is innovative and strangely funny as it reveals how her narrator handled certain social situations after her husband’s death. The repetition of the cause of the husband’s death and his age also convey the obsessive nature of grief.
After reading her brilliant story, Pietrzyk stuck around to answer many questions we had on that blustering, snowy night. She described her writing rules and rituals. For instance, she usually writes in the afternoon from about 2pm to 6pm, and if she skips that specific time for a social event, immense guilt consumes her. As college students, I think we can all relate to the guilty feeling, which results from procrastinating or skipping homework assignments for social events. Or Netflix. Or napping. When she feels as if she’s hit a wall writing, Pietrzyk told us, she’ll pop into a local café, grab some coffee and try writing with a pen and paper instead of focusing on a computer screen. Clearly, these writing rituals worked for her. So, for anyone having trouble with their creative process, take this advice from the amazing, prize-winning Pietrzyk: stay focused and change things up.
My favorite part of Pietrzyk’s reading was when she told us that writing isn’t about trying to make everything better all of the time. Yes, of course revision is important in the writing process but going to a workshop, or book club, or even creating a workshop where only praise is rewarded can be uplifting and help in the process overall. The secret to her magic is to find ways to make the same thing happen again, but in an interesting way, which she demonstrated in her collection. It takes an amazing, and creative author, to write sixteen stories about a young husband dying, and make it fresh and new each time.
Listening to Pietrzyk’s read, I was reminded that life is full of loss and trauma, but art can make them bearable. This Angel on My Chest suggests that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and writing can help you see it.
For more information about Leslie Pietrzyk, or if you’re interested in buying This Angel on My Chest, or if you want a BOMB recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara, make sure to visit her website lesliepietrzyk.com or follow her blog lesliepietrzyk.blogspot.com.