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|Craig-Lee Hall (CL) 456|
Visit Emily Danforth's personal website
Academic BackgroundB.A. Hofstra University
M.F.A. The University of Montana (Missoula)
Ph.D. University of Nebraska (Lincoln)
I write fiction and nonfiction—flashes, essays, short stories, and everything in between. But the novel is the form that feels most like home to me as both a reader and as a writer.
My first, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is the coming-of-age story of its eponymous narrator, an orphan whose parents have recently drowned at a location that has peculiar and significant resonance in her family. Cameron’s voice is that of a young woman searching for a language of queer selfhood that resists the strictures of heteronormativity. The novel is constructed as chorus of small moments, moments examined and connected and returned to—what John Gardner calls (in The Art of Fiction) a “complex system of associations”—with each of these fleeting moments steeped in place: a dried-up ranch town in eastern Montana and the carcass of an abandoned hospital lurking near its center; a murky swimming hole with a manmade beach; a Christian boarding school/“reparative” therapy center situated between the Crazy Mountains and Quake Lake. As such, the novel’s many characters are both confined and defined by place. Or, as Eudora Welty put it in her seminal essay on the subject of place in fiction, they’re “set to scale in their proper world.”
I believe that literature allows us quiet, often meditative, respite to make sense of the world and our place in it. In a time when more information—more entertainment and art—is available to more people than ever before (and in more forms, on more devices) why utilize a form as meandering and slow, as seemingly antiquated, as the novel? What’s left there for writers to make use of? For me, it is the telepathy of fiction that’s so powerful, the way it takes us not only to different times and places, but also, importantly, to different selves. Dorothy Alison has said that “…the surest way to change someone is to get them to inhabit the soul of another human being. Stories do this.” There is significant power in telling a story to an audience, and I want my students to be thoughtful about that power (and not just the elements of technique used to wield it). As a queer woman, I know well the ways in which stories are used not only reflect and entertain, but also to define and control.
To better understand how various elements of craft make a particular story function, students in my introductory creative writing classes spend much of the semester examining the specific set of choices a writer has made in a particular story. Once students feel comfortable “reading like writers,” which is to say, reading with an understanding of craft and a language to express that understanding, they bring those abilities to their own workshops. However, while giving students the tools to recognize and utilize elements of technique is a critical aspect of any successful creative writing course, I think it’s equally important not to encourage students to fetishize craft and craft alone. I encourage students to always consider what’s at stake in their fiction—just where they’re asking readers to primarily invest their energy and attention. Does a story’s aboutness come only from the skillful manipulation of technique, and if so, is that aboutness satisfying to the writer? To borrow critic Elif Batuman’s phrase, can writers achieve “lucid prose full of evocative description” that is not “bound up in a story that you can’t bring yourself to care about?” All of this gets at larger questions about why we write artfully in the first place. Is it to make sense of the world? Is it to connect with, or speak for, an audience? Maybe it’s to break the frozen seas inside our souls? (That last bit is close to how Kafka put it, anyway.) Of course, it’s tempting to answer, simply: all of the above. But we know that each work of fiction demands to be read on its own terms and I want my students thinking carefully about what that means to their own writing process(es). In all of my teaching I strive to create the right environment (one that marries provocation with reassurance) to allow my students to come to those questions (and then hopefully to some of the answers) on their own.
I first came to teach at RIC in 2011, but I’ve been smitten with Providence since my time as an undergrad (at a college on Long Island). By my junior year I’d made a new best friend, from Seekonk (of all places), and for a couple of years we made semi-frequent road trips to Rhode Island and I fell in love with the architecture, the ocean, and the food. Despite my deep Montana roots, I think I knew that I’d eventually wind up in the Ocean State. In addition to writing, I have a deep passion for massive home renovation projects, and thus far, the west side of Providence has kept me (and my wife) very busy with those. You can follow along with some of them on my instagram if you’re interested: http://instagram.com/emdanforth/
Courses TaughtENGL 220 Introduction to Creative Writing
ENGL 371 Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction
ENGL 375/376 Shoreline Literary Magazine Production
ENGL 460: Seminar in Major Authors and Themes
ENGL 481: Advanced Workshop in Creative Writing
ENGL 581 Graduate Workshop in Creative Writing-Prose
ENGL 591: Directed Reading
Selected PublicationsSide Talks With Girls—a novel (forthcoming from HarperCollins, winter 2016)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post—a novel. HarperCollins, 2012
Awards and Honors for The Miseducation of Cameron Post (selected)
The Montana Book Award-2012
The High Plains Book Award-YA-2013
The Nebraska Book Award-YA-2013
Finalist for the American Library Association’s Morris Award in YA Literature-2012
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in YA-2012