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Internationally recognized author inspires audience at Writers Forum

by Nicholas Mazur - Campus Talk Editor
Tue, Feb 13th 2018 10:00 pm

The Writer’s Forum series opened its spring session Wednesday, Feb. 7, in the New York Room in Cooper Hall. The guest author who appeared was Rachel Hall, reading excerpts from her book, “Heirlooms”. Hall is actually a local author, teaching creative writing and literature at SUNY Geneseo. In line with the many authors that have appeared in the series before, Hall has won several awards for her writing, as well as her teaching, including two Chancellor’s awards for excellence. Hall’s style is one that delver into history, both world history and personal history, linking the two as inseparable and equally potent in their own ways.

Hall’s presence during a Q&A with students, as well as during the reading, was one of a practiced presenter and a genuine individual. During the discussion with students of the Writer’s Craft class, Hall answered several questions about the craft of her stories, and the careful incorporation of memory and storytelling into her work. 

Students had many questions for Hall, including questions about the recollection of stories Hall was told, and stories from her own imagination. One student asked about an aspect of the novel in which it is addressed that we as storytellers often ignore parts of stories that we do not like.

“You guys have probably all heard stories from your family members about particular things, and you know how they have a rhythm and you know what they’re going to say next, and there’s something very soothing about those stories,” Hall said. “I think we do that; we erase or fluff off the rough edges to make it an easier story to tell.” 

Her book, “Heirlooms,” is not entirely a novel, as it might appear to many. In fact, it is a collection of short stories or “linked stories.” Sometimes the stories are linked quite strongly, while others have more fleeting connections. This discrepancy, according to Hall herself, caused some confusion amongst her publisher and  readers, who were unsure on whether to refer to the collection as a novel or short stories, and even whether to refer to each story as such, or as chapters. Nevertheless, they all form a very cohesive, engaging story about World War II, love, trauma, leaving home and finding new homes. The inspiration for the book came from documents discovered, stories told to Hall growing up, and Hall’s own literary imagination.

Before the reading, Hall received a thorough and praising introduction by this season’s Writer’s Forum coordinator, as well as instructor for the adjoining writer’s craft class, Anne Panning. Panning noted that Hall is not just a local author.

 “Rachel Hall may be a local writer to us, but her work has been nationally and internationally recognized and lauded,” Panning said.

During the reading, Hall read a chapter from her book, “La Pousette”. Her voice during the reading was one of someone practiced either with her own work, or with reading aloud in general. 

As is often the case in a Writer’s Forum event, Hall gave her book a dimension it does not have when simply being read. Her steady voice gave a second glimpse into the story, seeing it more focused through the eyes of its creator. Hall read quite slowly, as if, like a wine, the story had to be enjoyed slowly. The privilege of her delivering the very lines she wrote was evident as the hushed audience took in her steadfast voice, even when the main character of the chapter/story was experiencing a shocking miscarriage, Hall’s voice neither sped up nor increased intensity. It gave the audience the benefit of experiencing the mundanity and unchanging certainty of even life’s most tragically unbearable moments.

All in all, Hall was a gentle seeming author who liked to let her work do the talking, and whose work had plenty to say. The next author to appear in this season’s Writer’s Forum series will be memorist and performance artist Donna Kaz, on February 21.



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