Classy Talk with Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum

Posted Mon, 8/19/2013 - 10:06pm by  |  Category:

What is the title of your class?

Happily, I’m teaching three classes at the Hugo House this fall—Echoes and Endings: Finishing Your Short Story Well, Genre Bending: Writing Short Fiction, and Short Fiction Workshop: Learning from the Masters.

People should take this class if…

They love to write and love to read. That goes for all three classes. I believe in offering a hearty serving of both reading (and discussions of that reading) and writing (both exercises and longer drafts) in my classes, and these three are specifically structured around particular reading/writing experiences. In the “Endings” class, we’ll do some intense close-reading of a couple of short stories, working to pick apart how writers successfully set up a story’s ending and sign off on the last page. In the “Genre” class, we’ll examine a single story that plays with or blends genres each week, as well as working through exercises designed to push the constraints of genre. And in the “Masters” class, we’ll return to the classics, discussing a single story from “the canon” each week and using it as a model of craft as we turn to developing our own short fiction.

Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how? 

Yes, on my website and through Facebook.

Are any of your works online and available to the public? (If no, we’ll remove this question from your survey.)

Yes—I have some links to stories posted on my website.

What excites you about the material you’re teaching?

I’ve had fun choosing the stories we’ll read in my fall classes—they’re all among my favorites, though all wildly different in style and structure—and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to go back to these stories and to see what discoveries we’ll make about writing through reading and discussing them as models.

Tell us a bit about your previous teaching experience.

I’ve been teaching at the Hugo House since last winter, and before that was a member of the faculty in creative writing at Purchase College, SUNY for four years. I’ve been a guest lecturer in writing or an adjunct faculty member at a number of other schools—Texas Tech, Goshen College, Saint Mary’s College, Millikin University, and the Inland Northwest Center for Writers, to name a few. And before all of that I taught middle school English for a year. All in all, I’ve been teaching in one capacity or another for thirteen years now. I know some writers feel teaching can interrupt their own writing, but I love the opportunity teaching offers me to exchange interests and ideas with a room full of other people who care about literature. I always come away from class—especially fiction workshops—charged up about writing and buzzing with new ideas. My students inspire me!

What do you like best about teaching at Hugo House?

As I said above, I love my students. I’ve been so impressed and inspired by the dedication, creativity, and generosity of the writers I’ve met in my classes at the Hugo House. It’s wonderful to get to spend some time each week with people who are so engaged with their own work and so eager to learn.

What’s the best piece of writing you’ve read in the past year?

It’s impossible to narrow it down to just one piece of writing. This summer I’ve read Elliott Holt’s debut novel You Are One of Them and Jodi Angel’s collection You Only Get Letters From Jail, and both were fantastic. But I also re-read several older Alice Munro stories, as well as Kevin Wilson’s collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, and was just as enamored with them this time around as the first. (My kids and I are working our way through The Odyssey together too—not an easy read, but certainly a lesson in keeping a plot moving!)

What books made you want to write?

In the beginning, when I was young, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and Alcott’s Little Women. Then Cather’s My Antonia, Munro’s Collected Stories, Gina Berriault’s Women in Their Beds. Later, John Berger’s To the Wedding, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. And now? I seem to have a much easier time reading short stories than novels these days, so my current list of favorites is all stories—those by Edith Pearlman and Mavis Gallant, Lauren Groff and Karen Russell, and always—always—Alice Munro.

If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer, what would it be?

I have two bits of advice, both equally important: Read and Revise.

If you were to meet your favorite writer in person later today, what would you say to them?

I’d probably be too flustered to say anything, really, but if I could keep my head I hope I’d at least say thank you.

What are you reading now? If you could pair it with a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), what would you choose?

I’ve just begun James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime, so I’m going to have to go with champagne.