VIDEO: Professor and Novelist Valerie Sayers on Writing and Contemporary Fiction

Author: Todd Boruff

 

“The impulse to tell a story is driven by forces we don’t always understand. It has to be spontaneous for some of the darkest and deepest material to come out.” 

— Valerie Sayers

Valerie Sayers is a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of six novels — including The Powers, Brain Fever, The Distance Between Us, and Due East — as well as numerous short stories, essays, and reviews.


Video Transcript

I’m primarily a fiction writer. I write novels, short stories, and hard-to-classify little pieces that move between the two. I work on all kinds of contemporary issues but really I’m most interested in the form the novels or the stories take.

The impulse to tell a story is driven by forces we don’t always understand. It has to be spontaneous I think for some of the darkest and deepest material to come out. Art is, by its nature, disturbing to us and I don’t mean that just necessarily in a negative sense. It disturbs our patterns of thought. So it can be joyful, it can provide us a sense of extraordinary beauty; very often, though, it provides us a sense of what we’ve been worrying about. That can be hard for a writer to face, as hard as it is for a reader to face.

People are terrified of disease, of terrorists, of what the future holds for the planet, and all of that is coming out in our literature. Writers we used to think of as primarily writers of the contemporary scene, more or less contemporary realists, are suddenly writing zombie novels and all kinds of futuristic dystopian novels. That’s entirely a reflection of our cultural anxiety and, in the cases of intelligent writers, a desire to really think about that critically through the medium of storytelling.

One of the real strengths of the Creative Writing Program at Notre Dame is precisely that we integrate the study of writing itself — we are active practitioners of writing, and why it is we’re writing, how it is we’re writing. It also has a very strong commitment to outreach into the community. Writers, yes, work in a lot of isolation for those few hours a day they’re writing intently, but we’re social creatures too, and we very much want to be part of our community, to learn from our community, and to take what we learn from our community back into our writing.

Originally published by Todd Boruff at al.nd.edu on February 14, 2017.