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Author talks transgender visibility in the literary community

BY KATHERINE BAUER

On Friday night in the Reading Room of Cowles Library, the Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Series wrapped up its final lecture of the year. Author Casey Plett lectured on the significance of relatability in literature and encouraged young writers to value the work they’re doing right now.

“Writing and reading have never even been close to separable things,” Plett said. “For me, writing has always been sort of like imagining myself discovering it myself as a reader. That’s the only way I’ve managed to move forward as a writer. I’ve been lucky enough where I can talk to people who have read my work and how they respond to it.”

Originally from Canada, Plett received the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction in 2015 and an Honour of Distinction for LGBT Emerging Writers in Canada from the Dayne Ogilvie Prize. She also wrote a column about transitioning for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Plett began her lecture by reading from her book, “A Safe Girl to Love,” a collection of short stories about 11 transgender women. She discussed how literature can bring people from marginalized communities together without always having to worry about readability, something that resonated with some audience members.

“What I really took home was when she was talking about marginalized communities and I guess how those communities can come together and talk with one another without focusing on readability or relatability to people outside of their identity,” said Rai Ahmed-Green, a senior writing and law, politics and society double major. “One of the reasons that fiction is so powerful because when you’re writing something … the more truth you put into it the more powerful it can be.”

Plett said it’s humbling to have readers come up to her or contact her to express how her stories touched their lives.

“It’s a really special thing,” Plett said. “Writing’s really hard. When I hear that (from readers), it makes me feel like it’s fuel to go on. Obviously, I’ve written for a long period of time before anyone read anything, but I think writers need that kind of thing as well. If you can tell an artist that you like their work, you should do it.”

Plett also discussed her writing process, how she often thinks about her reader sitting in a room alone and how that person would relate and respond to what she’s writing. She had advice for writers who may be struggling to find their niche or their voice.

“Find someone you can make community with, try to find people who are interested in the same weird sh*t as you, who are coming from the same place you are,” she said. “I definitely do believe that. Also, that’s not always possible, and you have to figure out how to write anyway. I just go back to that reader in my mind … keeping that reader in my head, and I don’t know if anyone is going to like this (writing) now, but maybe someone who’s alone in their room will read something I’ve written alone in my room. And they will like it and connect with it in some way, and I have to believe that’s possible. That kind of keeps me going.”

Yasmina Madden, assistant professor of English at Drake University, said it was great to hear Plett tell listeners how important their writing is.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 19 and you’ve had a bunch of ‘life experiences,’” she said. “The writing they’re doing right now is valid and important. And it’s nice to hear someone up there saying, ‘What you’re working on right now, hold onto it because it could be something that ends up being really important to your work later.’ Just because it doesn’t resonate with you right now, or doesn’t seem finished enough or vivid enough, it doesn’t mean you have to throw it away.”

Madden, who helped organized the Writers and Critics Series, said Plett was a great way to end the year.

“It’s nice to have a guest at the semester whose work crosses disciplines and is talking to a diverse audience,” Madden said. “The Series this year has, I’m probably biased, but has been fantastic. We’ve had great turnouts for all of the folks who have come. We had a nice mix of genres.”

Madden said her team is already looking ahead to next year and is looking for another great year.

“(The Series is) about supporting a diversity of voices and a diversity of experience and making sure that students at Drake and people from the community have access to a diversity of stories and artists and experiences,” Madden said.

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