This week, the Miscellany caught up with alum Vincent Poturica following the publication of his short story, “Dad’s House,” in the New England Review. We asked him about his story, writing, and, as always, life after Carleton.
You’re from California, went to Carleton, then got your M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Florida. Tell us about your geographic story. What drew you to all these different places, and what have you learned from the places you’ve been?
My “geographic story” might be summed up in a quote my mom used to send me annually from her Mary Engelbreit calendar: Wherever you go, there you are. Regarding what I’ve “learned,” I guess the usual things: that the world is big, often tragic, and sometimes astonishingly beautiful; that people are usually doing their best; and that I know very little.
In your senior reflection essay “Fragments of Necessity,” written for the commencement of the Class of 2009, you say that for true communication to happen, “a person must be vulnerable” and “share something of who they are in order to warrant a response that carries any depth.” How does this philosophy play out in your writing?
I’m not the biggest Hemingway fan, but I like his suggestion to young writers to develop a “built-in bullshit detector.” Vulnerability can be a powerful antidote to “bullshit.”
Your recently published story, “Dad’s House,” is an incredibly haunting piece about the simultaneous coming-of-age of the protagonist and the deterioration of his estranged father. Why write a 17-year-old protagonist? What is valuable about his character’s point of view?
“Dad’s House” began as an image/premise: a suburban man slowly cuts himself apart with a kitchen knife and studies the pieces while they decompose in a Tupperware container. The 17-year-old protagonist was a means to investigate this man without access to his head. I also wanted to mash-up a “teen love story” with a “haunted house tale” to see what happened. All perspectives are “valuable.”
As a writer and someone who teaches creative writing, what are your thoughts on “death of the Author”?
Barthes is a smart dude with miles of style, but I don’t have time to re-read his essay to answer this question intelligently (I’ve got too many papers to grade!). So I’ll answer it another way: Padgett Powell compares writers to irritated clams. Ideally, the writer isn’t too irritated (a “dead clam”), but irritated enough by the grains of sand insider her shell that she produces a pearl from the discomfort. Whether I’m a “dead author” or a “living author” or a “post-human author,” I write to relieve discomfort by (ideally) producing a pearl. The pearl is what matters, not who made it.
How has Carleton prepared you for your career as a writer and professor?
Professor Greg Smith gave me an excellent piece of advice that I still meditate on: If the pleasure of trying to make beautiful things is enough of a payoff, then you’ll keep writing. Isn’t that lovely? As an “adjunct faculty member” (I’m not a “professor”), I try to emulate the patience, passion, humility, and rigor that Professor Smith, Professor Jaret McKinstry, Professor Balaam, Professor Hecker, and so many others modeled for me.
What is your fondest memory of the English Department?
The insane privilege of spending all that time reading and talking about books! And all those library guests and Cave shows! And my friends! And skating down the hill from Laird to Goodhue!
You can read “Dad’s House” on the New England Review’s website here.