Rising Writers Series on 5/1/19 with Namwali Serpell and Lydia Kiesling | Mechanics' Institute

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Rising Writers Series on 5/1/19 with Namwali Serpell and Lydia Kiesling

May 1st's Rising Writer's event with Lydia Kiesling and Namwali Serpell was a masterclass in writing, lending insight into their writing process, working titles, and how to make it as a first-time novelist.

What I first noticed is that both novels are very location-centric. Lydia Kiesling's novel, The Golden State, examines what "the golden state" means literally and figuratively. Set in Northeastern California on the Oregon border, The Golden State is not a title without irony; a theme of her novel is the Free State of Jefferson, or the underground movement to turn Northern California and Southern Oregon into the 51st state.

Namwali Serpell's novel, The Old Drift, was originally titled "Breaking," but she changed the name after visiting a cemetery/colonial settlement near the Zambian River. Serpell explained that The Old Drift presented the idea of a river as a border, the drift between families as a specific place, and as the narrowest and stillest part of a river.

Both novels explore ideas of family and relationships; Kiesling's takes place over the course of ten days and revolves around a mother and her child. Serpell's novel concerns two generations of three families; however, unlike the Montagues and Capulets, their relationships are not based on antagonism.

While Kiesling and Serpell make writing look easy with their deft understanding of plot and characters, Kiesling admitted that nothing prepares you to write your first novel.

Serpell agreed; "I think of myself as a reader of a novel not yet written rather than a writer," Serpell explained. As someone who wants to write fiction, this in particular stuck with me. Serpell went on to add that a common piece of advice for young writers is to "find your voice." "We all know that we have multiple voices, and we don't necessarily have to find one to write. Stretch your voice, and think about what voices you already have," she said. Kiesling said not to wait for permission from anyone to write, especially when it comes to essays or short fiction.

This event was probably the most helpful of the series for aspiring writers. I am excited for the next Rising Writer's Event!

— Kat Triebes, Events Intern