A tal­ent to per­se­vere

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Lau­rel Glad­den For The New Mex­i­can

of Emily Rapp’s young girl grins from the drive­way of her fam­ily’s home on what looks a warm sum­mer day. She grips the han­dle­bars of her ba­nana-seat bi­cy­cle, ready to tour her neigh­bor­hood, her auburn locks stream­ing out be­hind her, but first she pauses to pose for her par­ents’ cam­era.

So sweet and care­free is her grin, so clas­sic the child­hood moment cap­tured, you might not no­tice that one of the girl’s legs is a pros­the­sis. Be­cause of a con­gen­i­tal birth de­fect, when Rapp was 4 years old, her left foot was am­pu­tated; by the time she was 8, sev­eral surg­eries had re­moved her en­tire leg. She en­joyed an ac­tive child­hood, though — jump­ing rope, rid­ing her bike, swim­ming, and ski­ing. Later, she stud­ied at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, St. Olaf Col­lege, Trin­ity Col­lege in Dublin, and the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin. As a Ful­bright scholar, she taught English in a pub­lic high school in Seoul. Her writ­ing — which in­cludes fic­tion, po­etry, and her 2007 mem­oir, Poster Child — has gar­nered nu­mer­ous awards.

Re­cently, Rapp was a Philip Roth Res­i­dent in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Buck­nell Uni­ver­sity and part of the Mas­ter of Fine Arts Cre­ative Writ­ing pro­gram’s fac­ulty at An­ti­och Uni­ver­sity in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She re­lo­cated to New Mex­ico to join the team at the Santa Fe Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign, where she teaches cre­ative writ­ing and lit­er­a­ture. On Tues­day, Sept. 28, along­side fel­low fac­ulty mem­ber Porochista Khakpour, Rapp reads at O’Shaugh­nessy Per­for­mance Space on the SFUAD cam­pus. Pasatiempo: What are you read­ing on Tues­day? Emily Rapp: I will be read­ing from my novel. It needs to get out in the world a lit­tle bit, test the wa­ters. I chose it be­cause I’m afraid to read it, which is ex­actly why I need to. Pasa: When did you dis­cover that you had a gift for writ­ing? Rapp: I’ve al­ways been an avid reader. I re­mem­ber read­ing books as a child and then as an adult and each time think­ing, I want to do that. I want to cre­ate sto­ries in other peo­ple’s minds, trans­port them, make them feel hu­man in a new and dif­fer­ent way, chal­lenge them, make them lose an af­ter­noon on a porch swing or in an arm­chair. And I’m not sure I be­lieve in writerly gifts — I be­lieve in writerly per­se­ver­ance, and I be­lieve in stub­born­ness. Pasa: Do you write ev­ery day? Do you have any tricks for get­ting over writer’s block? Rapp: I try to write ev­ery day, even if it’s just for 10 min­utes. … I don’t be­lieve in writer’s block; I be­lieve in writer’s despair! That blocked or de­spair­ing feel­ing, in my opin­ion, is of­ten the sign that ideas and im­ages

Iand char­ac­ters and plot are ges­tat­ing and that you need to be pa­tient. When that hap­pens I try to lose my­self in books, in words, and let the ideas have some room to breathe. You just have to wait it out, and in the mean­time, keep your brain oc­cu­pied. Pasa: What do you like about teach­ing? What made you de­cide to join the fac­ulty at SFUAD? Rapp: I like the bal­ance teach­ing cre­ates in my life. It’s a way to feel of use, it’s a way to, hope­fully, in­still in stu­dents a pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture, and it’s a so­cial vo­ca­tion, whereas writ­ing, by ne­ces­sity, is in­cred­i­bly lonely and soli­tary. ... Teach­ing also helps me think about writ­ing and lit­er­a­ture in new and in­ter­est­ing ways, which is good for my own writ­ing prac­tice. I al­ways learn a lot from my stu­dents and their in­sights.

I joined SFUAD be­cause I en­joyed my time with the stu­dents and fac­ulty I met, and be­cause I wanted to teach at an un­der­grad­u­ate in­sti­tu­tion where I would have more time in the class­room than in my pre­vi­ous po­si­tion. ... I was also in­trigued by the idea of be­ing a part of a school that was in the process of re­build­ing and re­defin­ing it­self. Pasa: Teach­ing some­thing that comes nat­u­rally to you can be chal­leng­ing. What are some of your tech­niques? Rapp: I’m not sure writ­ing comes nat­u­rally to any­one. I think the de­sire or the im­pulse to write — the com­pul­sion to write — might feel nat­u­ral or nec­es­sary, but writ­ing is work. ... As with any art form, there are … the­o­ries and ways to ap­proach cre­at­ing fic­tion, but as a writer you ul­ti­mately need to do three things: read, write, and per­se­vere. And then re­peat that process, for the rest of your life. ... It’s about prac­tice, con­sis­tency, and re­silience. Tal­ent is great, sure, but what con­sti­tutes tal­ent is sub­jec­tive. .... If you can learn to be dis­ci­plined, you can learn to write, and if you keep at it, you will con­tinue to grow and de­velop as a writer. In that way writ­ing is a lot like ex­er­cise — you don’t get credit for think­ing about it; you only see the ef­fects if you ac­tu­ally get up — or, in the case of writ­ing, sit down — and do it. Pasa: How do you teach some­one to be cre­ative? Rapp: I think you can teach peo­ple a strong work ethic. You can en­cour­age them to cre­ate a space for cre­ativ­ity, es­tab­lish rit­u­als, things like that. You can teach peo­ple to read books that sur­prise them in terms of style or form or con­tent. … And you can teach peo­ple to be open and ob­ser­vant of the peo­ple they live with and the land­scapes they live within. You can teach some­one the wis­dom and artis­tic ben­e­fit of brav­ery, and by that I mean seek­ing out new ex­pe­ri­ences, mak­ing your­self an out­sider in or­der to be an ob­server — whether through travel or try­ing a new dance class or hik­ing a new trail.

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