Arts & Culture

Author Steven Dunn presents interactive reading

Visiting lecturer highlights variety of voices in mixed media work, ‘Water & Power’

Contributing Writer
Monday, September 23, 2019

Dunn discussed military culture in his work to an audience of “Writers on Writing” students and other community members.

When the spotlight shone on Steven Dunn, a former member of the Navy, he was not alone; with him were Mike Malpiedi, event specialist at the University, Kendall Morris GS, MFA Candidate for Poetry and Shingai Kagunda GS, MFA Candidate for Fiction.

Students from both sections of Writers on Writing, a popular literary arts seminar that allows students to engage in conversation with the writers who appear on their syllabus, gathered in the McCormack Family Theater on Thursday, Sept. 19 for Dunn’s talk. In this public reading offered in conjunction with the class, Dunn’s soothing baritone voice contrasted with the difficult topic of military culture discussed in his work,“Water & Power.”

“He definitely fits into the category of writer who is bringing what he has learned from wide reading in poetry, prose and essay to bear in his writing,” wrote Professor in Literary Arts Laird Hunt in an email to The Herald.  In his writing, Dunn “brings in the voices of fellow veterans in a spirit of critique and inquiry as well as a wide variety of photographs and other visual ephemera,” Hunt added.

As Dunn put it, in the “spirit of things being multi-vocal,” others chipped in to read different extracts from his book. Every new voice in the book was supplemented with a new voice on stage. One by one, Malpiedi, Morris and Kagunda proceeded to read extracts from his book. Most extracts were named after an interviewee affected by war, number-coded to maintain anonymity.

Malpiedi read his section, a story of toxic masculinity and sexuality, with an assertive voice. Morris spoke with less inflection, reading an excerpt about food and the interviewee’s brother. Finally, Kagunda took to the stage, commanding the audience’s attention with her poignant reading of stories of sexual harassment in the military.

“Dunn’s work is a radical dose of reality and truth-telling — i.e. the world that exists beyond the walls of the University,” wrote Assistant Professor of the Practice in Literary Arts Andrew Colarusso in an email to The Herald. “It’s also a text honest about the best intentions and sorriest sins of its author. It’s incredibly scary to write something so transparent, and it marks, in my mind, Dunn as an author of great courage, sensitivity and finesse.”

At the event, Dunn also explained how he punctuates his nonfiction writing with fiction. “I thought fiction would allow me to be more truthful in a way,” he said during the question-and-answer session following the presentation of his work. “By asserting something is fact, I feel like I’ve opened it up for people to argue. … But I also realize I could lose credibility, you know, by grouping everything under fiction.”

Dunn captivated his audience, generating gasps and eliciting laughs. Dunn also shared a preview of “The Usual Route,” a movie adaptation of “Water & Power.” He attested to the dedication of Corey Warner, the film adaptation’s producer, in staying true to the original work. He “got my opinion on everything before he went ahead, … and it was really cool,” Dunn explained.

After the screening, the audience sat in a ruminative silence before breaking out into applause.

Responses to Dunn’s reading were largely positive. One student particularly appreciated the opportunity to experience creative writing live. “I really enjoyed the book. …He uses a lot of different styles of narratives, including an interview. It was a very tough read, but I enjoyed it,” Justin Cardozo ’20 added.

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