Kelly Gallagher ’22
Chief Features Editor
On September 18, the Working Writers Series kicked off the semester in Rehm Library
with two stirring readings by College of the Holy Cross’ very own Professors Leah Hager Cohen and Oliver de la Paz. Both authors, each with several publications to their names, teach classes within the Creative Writing Program, which has sponsored the ongoing Working Writers Series for several years.
Professor Cohen read from her most recently published novel, “Strangers and Cousins,” which centers around a family reuniting for a wedding. In the section she read from, Professor Cohen’s work captures the profundity of a quiet interaction between the soon-to-be-married couple. Though many people sense profound moments in their lives, few articulate it so well as Professor Cohen.
Professor Cohen revealed that she has only the kernel of an idea when she begins writing, and that her writing is “a process of discovery” as she fleshes out her characters. Only then do her themes emerge. In the case of “Strangers and Cousins,” the novel focuses on the themes of community and culture.
Professor de la Paz read from his book of poems, “The Boy in the Labyrinth.” The labyrinth in the title alludes to the one featured in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The book is influenced by de la Paz’s experience as a parent of two sons on the autism spectrum and chronicles parents’ struggles with the neurodiagnostic language imposed upon them. These and other themes, such as understanding, are explored through a series of prose poems and questionnaires.
De la Paz stated that he had not set out to write a collection of poems about this topic, but over the course of many years, he jotted down “doodles,” only to eventually realize they were all connected. But don’t be fooled by its organic start: de la Paz described it as the “hardest book that [he’s] written.” This isn’t hard to imagine, since not even the allegorical nature of the poems can diminish their intimacy and heartfeltness.
Hands flew up during the Q&A following the reading. Students and faculty eagerly asked Professors Cohen and de la Paz how the professors find time to write and about the creative decisions made in the particular sections they read, amongst other questions. The engaged audience stands testament to the event’s merit.
English major Maressa Park ’22 reflected, “I enjoyed and learned so much from this particular Working Writers Series event. Though it centered on one work of fiction and one work of allegorical nonfiction poetry, both authors shared a common theme of embracing productive discomfort to create meaningful conversation. I write a lot in my spare time, and that’s definitely something I think I need to work on.”
The next event in the Working Writers Series will be held in conjunction with the ALSCW Conference as Holy Cross welcomes poets A.E. Stallings and Rachel Hadas. During the afternoon of October 4, the poets will give a craft talk in the English Common room before reading from their works in Rehm Library at 7:30 p.m.