Novelist Ben Marcus MFA’91 explored themes of health, vulnerability and technology’s dark side while reading his work “The Grow-Light Blues” for an intimate and enthusiastic audience in the McCormack Family Theater Wednesday. The story follows a man who works at a technology research and development firm and is the test subject of an experiment to see if humans can absorb nutrients through light and forgo eating.
“The whole thing stank of opt out. Self-knowledge was for the dead, they said,” Marcus read aloud from his short story. “People don’t like themselves enough to have to deal with other people with feelings so similar to their own. It makes them feel less special.”
Marcus described his experience writing the novel. Audience members noted his affinity for neologism and rare ability to bring conventional-seeming stories to unusual places during the question-and-answer session following the reading.
“I reached this point of delusion that anyone reaches when writing and thought the evil tech company’s plot was actually plausible — at least long enough for me to write the story,” Marcus said.
Marcus’ reading was part of the Spring 2016 Contemporary Writers Reading Series sponsored by the Department of Literary Arts. It also capped off a day spent on campus as part of an interview for a faculty position in the department, said Assistant Director of Literary Arts Gale Nelson.
Marcus, who has been a member of the Columbia faculty since 2000, has received literary honors including the Berlin Prize Fellowship and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
“Candidates are people identified by the search committee as worth close review for the possibility of being hired (as a fiction professor) to teach at Brown,” Nelson said.
This particular readings series, which tends to be “well-attended,” is held in conjunction with searches for faculty members, Nelson added.
Students, faculty and community members alike came to hear Marcus read.
“I came because I’m a big fan and decided to do my dissertation on Marcus,” said Charles Kay, a community member who attended the reading and found “The Grow-Light Blues” to be “simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching.”
Marcus’ “writing is singular and prescient, and he does things not a lot of other contemporary writers are doing,” Kay added.