“It is a great responsibility,” said Cynthia Zarin, the coordinator of the Writing Concentration, “to know what you mean and mean what you say — and then to sit down and do it.”
These were her opening remarks at The Concentrators’ Ball, an annual event celebrating the work of seniors who completed the English Department’s Writing Concentration. Mentored by English faculty members, students in the program take additional creative writing courses and create a single sustained work or portfolio of smaller works for their senior project.
Last Wednesday, 15 students read excerpts from their completed novels, raunchy plays, collections of poetry and other projects to a packed audience in St. Anthony’s Hall.
Many of the poets and storytellers told fragile and solemn stories. Abigail Carney ’15 read about a young girl’s funeral, an excerpt from her novel “The Honey Grotto” — “Everyone always wants to be friends with the dead girl,” she read. “Carman always wanted to have a friend die, to have license for real sorrow.”
Next, in the wake of Carney’s story, death and memory were the focus of “The Inheritance of Jawbone Brown,” a novel by Nimal Eames-Scott ’15. Eames-Scott had one of the strongest presences at the Ball, and he shared his story with a clear confidence that energized his prose. As he described a dead character’s possessions, his performance soared: “They remained piled there, on the floor, like a little mound of offerings at a memorial — too small, too few, a little random and somehow uneven.”
David Gore ’15 read about a certain Grandmother Harrison, a mysterious grandmother in an island community, and Joy Shan described the map of Cape Town commuter trains for her audience. This was from her nonfiction project “Telling Time,” the story of a city divided by rails. “This city was built to maintain distances between people,” she read.
As the night went on, the students began to read from more comical pieces.
Reading with a mock southern accent, Gareth Imparato ’15 entertained the audience with a rowdy scene from his novel “Stay, Illusion.” The excerpt involved a submarine expedition, a few doses of LSD and a fecal explosion of “layer after layer of pressure-packed-poo.” Imparato embodied a drugged-up Hunter S. Thompson speaking through an angry drill sergeant — he boggled and intrigued his audience.
Humor shifted from raunchy to charming when Alonzo Page ’15 took the podium and read from his collection of poems, “Other & Unruly.” Though he opened with a passionate poem about love, faith and alcohol — “Each breath was short, a prayer and a slur” — he then went on to recite “Soft Negro Loop,” a story of love and loss told through a playlist. (The audience laughed when Page admitted that the title was originally the name of a friend’s Spotify playlist.)
Then, he took it all home with hilarious poems like “Oprah Teaches Acting Lessons” and “Rihanna Leaves a Voicemail.”
The humor peaked when Wilfredo Ramos ’15 transported his audience from the warm embrace of St. Anthony’s Hall to the confines of an ISIL dungeon in Iraq. The scene from his play “Blindfolded into the Dark” reached a climax as three prisoners moaned in unison with their captor — for a good 30 seconds. “The soul is in the breath,” the protagonist explained. “It’s in the moan.”
In the penultimate reading, a scene from “Anoush” by Eric Sirakian ’15, a brother asked his adopted Armenian sister to teach him some language pointers. While the encounter started as a lesson in swear words, it became sexually charged. Tension aside, the scene had its comical moments, winning laughter from the other concentrators.
The audience saw only a brief segment of “Anoush,” just as they had only engaged with excerpts from other projects, and was left wondering what would come next. As Zarin mentioned in her opening remarks, though the concentrators read from “final projects,” after graduation these students often begin a whole new process of creation and revision.