Sunday, December 7, 2008

Visiting Writer: Dawson Steeber

Dawson Steeber has a degree in fiction writing from the Northeastern Ohio Universities Masters of Fine Arts Program. Dawson was accepted into the Academy of American Poets in 2008, and was awarded a Coulter award for emerging writers in 2006. Dawson is a fiction editor for the Barn Owl Review and teaches for the University of Akron. A little known fact about Dawson is that he once traveled from Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon in the trunk of a ’77 Pontiac Grand Prix (see interview). Dawson is originally from Western Pennsylvania, and has spent the majority of his life wandering in a nomadic fashion. He has recently settled in Akron where he lives with his wife and son Giovanni.

Can I say this about Dawson? He fits in. He seemed more at home in my school than me! …and I’ve been there since 2002. To know Dawson is to know exactly what I’m talking about. He seemed old friends with the hall monitors, knew a visitor in the Cosmetology lab, and chatted up the graphics and auto body instructors. Anyway, Dawson, a lifetime laborer, seemed very at home within a vocational school; he asked the assistant diesel instructor some questions that might take a few hours on the Internet and a couple volumes of Chilton’s service manuals to decode.

Dawson read a new story called “In the Coming Days” to my senior fiction writing class and allowed them to offer constructive criticism. The story follows a character, Nelson, through a difficult time in his life. We learn that Nelson struggles with drinking, and that his pregnant wife has left him.

Geneva said the story was “Very descriptive. Like a snake.” Geneva compared the beginning of the story with the movie “The Mist.”

Matt said the narrative thread of the story was that the “wife left.” Nichole thought the narrative thread was Nelson’s drinking problem. Someone pointed out that the story was pretty long, and Dawson put his head down and sighed. “This is one of the shortest things I’ve got!” Nichole said she enjoyed the story so much she’d read more.

Someone said “More action!” Casey pointed out that this piece starts in the middle of the action, with a fallen tree, and the fact that Nelson gets cut on a broken bottle of bourbon created the potential for metaphor… He bandages his cut hand (with gauze and duct tape), yet tears the wrapping off before the wound has healed… by following the advice of another older character in the story, he “lets it bleed.” Casey pointed out that this could be considered evidence that Nelson has difficulty acknowledging the severity of old wounds and therefore has difficulty healing.

I appreciated the phrase “let it bleed,” and though The Byrds are mentioned, we get an echo of the Stones.

When prodded later over a “not just any” turkey sandwich and a cup of “dueling cheddar” soup, Dawson credited his interest in books (dirty realism in general) with the German born American poet and novelist Charles Bukowski. Dawson claimed to have disliked reading until he encountered Bukowski. “If it weren’t for books, I’d probably be dead,” he said with a sardonic grin. “Or in prison. Books saved me. Well, books and my wife.”

Thanks Dawson! The reading and conversation was essential!

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