The Daily Gamecock

Poet, fiction author visits USC campus

Hollings University English professor shares stories from collection, advice on creative writing



Award-winning author Cathryn Hankla gave an intimate reading of her newest work “Fortune Teller Miracle Fish,” a collection of short stories written over a 20-year span, at USC Thursday. The reading was followed by a question-and-answer session where Hankla bestowed tips on writing and the publishing process to the audience. Her visit was sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Institute for Southern Studies, the master of fine arts (MFA) program and the women’s and gender studies program.

“We are really fortunate to have an author of her stature come here to speak to us,” Drucilla Barker, director of women’s and gender studies at USC said. “It’s really incredible.”

Hankla, a professor of English and the director of creative writing at Hollins University in Virginia, has written seven books of poetry and four fiction works, including two novels.

She selected to read “Outlaws” from “Fortune Teller Miracle Fish,” a story about a man with an unusual problem and the young woman he helps after she crashes her car into a cow. The unique story drew strings of laughter, surprise and eyebrow raises from the audience.

“I like to build up a stereotype, like [the main character in “Outlaws”] in the reader’s mind, and then tear it away piece by piece,” Hankla said with a smile.

The author focuses her writing around language more so than she does story or characters. She wants every sentence to be a good experience and values detail and illustration in writing from the first page.

After the reading, Hankla imparted some personal advice not just on writing but on life, which she believes go hand in hand. She thoroughly covered the topic of how to become a good writer and how she constructs her narratives. According to Hankla, the best writers are the ones who watch and listen in all situations.

“Writers are introverts who are completely happy standing against the wall in a crowd and watching,” Hankla said. “There’s no such thing as being bored.”

Continuing on the subject of writing, Hankla said she is concerned by the egocentrism of people in today’s society. The need to constantly be heard causes problems, she said, and people should stop to hear what the world has to tell them. In her mind, people should confront and come to peace with themselves first before taking on the world and take advantage of their present situations, whether positive or negative.

“Whatever life gives you, as a writer, you can turn it into a great story,” Hankla said. “You have to learn from experience. Just accept what you’re doing and see what you can make happen.”