Story posted November 04, 2005
If Margot Livesey's approach to teaching is anything akin to her writing, Bowdoin students will soon be in for a treat. The critically acclaimed author of novels including Criminals, Eva Moves the Furniture, and Banishing Verona, is coming to Bowdoin this spring for the first of two spring semesters as visiting writer in the English Department, a post formerly held by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford.
"My good friend, the wonderful writer Richard Ford, emailed me to ask if I was interested in teaching at Bowdoin," says Livesey, who has been a writer-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston for the past eight years. "Richard spoke so eloquently about the students and about the institution, I thought, this was an opportunity I really should consider. "
The Scottish-born author has long balanced academia with her own writing life, having taught at institutions including Carnegie-Mellon, Brandeis, and the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Surprisingly, she says it is the relative inexperience of Bowdoin students that most draws her here: "Part of me was eager to teach undergraduates again," she says. "I've been working for most of the last decades with graduate students. There are many pleasures and rewards, but also burdens, as you try to mentor them in the real world. I thought it would be a pleasure to work with younger writers who are passionate about fiction but less involved in the professional aspects of writing."
Livesey's writing has been cited for the restrained strength of its formal structure, a finely tuned mechanism that moves her characters through ambiguous, and often menacing, circumstances. Criminals centers around a banker who keeps a baby he has found at a bus station, only to be blackmailed by the child's father. In Eva Moves the Furniture, a young woman grows up in the company of two "invisible" companions, who show up on their own schedule and with their own agendas.
While at Bowdoin, Livesey will teach two courses - one a Fiction Workshop and the other titled "Reading the Long Story." She describes the latter as "a reading-for-the-writer course."
"We'll be studying stories in their literary and social context," says Livesey, "but also as writers. Students will perhaps write letters between characters, or do imitations of the writers. If you are trying to write an imitation of, say, Jamaica Kincaid's monologue Girl, I think you see different things than you do when you study the work from a critical perspective."
English Department Chair Ann Kibbie says that Livesey's presence at Bowdoin is part of an ongoing effort to "expand our offerings in creative writing We were very fortunate to have Richard Ford in that position and are now pleased to welcome Margot Livesey," she says. "Our students are being introduced to classroom experience with exciting writers they wouldn't otherwise get to work with."