Write about the stuff no one writes about

Lowell Andreas, his son David and his daughter-in-law Debbie created the Nadine B. Andreas Endowment at Minnesota State in honor of their mother and wife, Nadine. This endowment funds graduate assistantships throughout MSU’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences. 

The endowment also allows them to teach creative writing in their two final semesters and present creative work during the Good Thunder Visiting Writer Series. 

Master of Fine Arts student Nathan Larson won this award this academic year.

“Whoever decides to apply for it competes with one another to see who gets it. If you get it, you not only get to read with one of the Good Thunder writers who also is the visiting writer, but you also get to teach Introduction to Creative Writing,” said Larson. “It’s a great opportunity to break out of teaching English 101 and start teaching English 242 and meeting more younger creative writers beginning the journey.” 

When Larson was writing his short story, “The Shades In-Between,” he said he was inspired by author Christopher McCormick’s book, “Desert Boys.” McCormick is an associate professor in MSU’s creative writing department.

“I liked the style of it. I like the idea of here are some things you should know. So I picked 10 things I thought people should know and mixed my own real-life with a fictionalized second person,” said Larson. “There’s a little bit of colorism that goes on where, if you’re lighter skinned, you get preferable treatment, and I’m not denying it doesn’t exist. But one of the downsides of being mixed race is that you don’t fit into any category. I haven’t seen a lot of short stories with that topic.” 

During a Good Thunder workshop in the Ostrander Auditorium Thursday, Larson read some of his work as a graduate student with best-selling author Melissa Febos. Larson said sharing a stage with Febos was a great experience. 

“I don’t write CNF (creative nonfiction), but because the short story dealt with things that were true to my life experience, our work ended up speaking to one another in a very interesting way,” said Larson. “She read from one of her new books, ‘Dry Season,’ and she did a year of celibacy which inspired it. So we talked in that line of, alright, here’s something nobody talks about. Let’s talk about it using our experience, and let’s try to use language to render it in a way that’s accessible.” 

Febos did a workshop and a craft talk along with a reading with Larson. She talked about ways for people to write using different techniques and how to come up with story ideas. Her work is primarily nonfiction, and she has written two memoirs and two essay collections that combine journalistic techniques, research and pop culture, and a personal narrative to it. Her book “GIRLHOOD,” released in 2021, is a collection of interconnected essays about her adolescent girlhood.

“It is how the challenges and traumas and lessons from that period have affected me and sort of played out in the rest of my life, and I also interviewed a lot of other women,” said Febos. “It covers things that are both super impactful but also ordinary, like sexual harassment or what we would call slut shaming today, early sexual development, body shaming and  navigating the world as a changing space once we come of age sexually.” 

Febos said she didn’t want to write about that topic at first, but ended up being proud she did. She said her relationship with writing is getting a certain urgency around certain topics, and then she starts writing, not knowing where it’s going to go. 

“Sometimes, the things I least want to write about are the things I most need to read about. Sometimes, the things you need to talk about are the things you absolutely can’t say out loud. Writing is a little bit like that for me,” said Febos. “But now I’m incredibly glad I did because it’s connecting me with so many people and these experiences that felt very singular and that I felt quite alone and have turned out to be so much more universal than I thought. I’ve heard from thousands of readers who have had similar experiences but also thought that they were alone.” 

Febos said she likes reading with other people, as she did with Larson. She said it is important for writers in different career stages to collaborate. 

“We can get a little bit siloed inside of our own generations and our own experiences. There are different levels of mentorship and connection that happen when people are coming from different places but also different places in their practice and in their writing career,” said Febos. “I learn as much from my students as I think they learn for me. So, I try to have a very age and career stage diverse community of writers. 

Febos has a book coming out in 2025 called “Dry Season” about her experience being celibate for a year. Celibate is abstaining from marriage and sexual relations. She said it was the “most surprising and insightful and happiest of my whole life, which was pretty shocking to me. And I wanted to share the things I learned.” 

Write to Lauren Viska at lauren.viska@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: Pictured is best-selling author Melissa Febos, who visited Minnesota State for the Good Thunder Reading series Thursday for a workshop, craft talk and book talk. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

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