Review: Fall 2022 David L. Paletz Creative Writing Guest Series

Collage of 2022 David L. Paletz Creative Writing Guests

During the 2022 Fall semester, Professor Mesha Maren used a David L. Paletz Course Enhancement grant to invite three writers to her "Creative Writing: Autofiction & First-Person" class virtually.

“By bringing Juliet Escoria, Scott McClanahan, and Julián Herbert into my classroom (via Zoom) to give lectures and answer questions, I hope to help students to understand how a text is crafted through drafting and revision and the ability for students to place their own writing in the context of the canon. I was able to expose students to a breadth of styles and genres: a poet, novelist, and short story writer (Juliet Escoria), a graphic novelist and auto-fictional writer (Scott McClanahan), and a screenwriter and novelist (Julián Herbert). I selected these three authors because they are all at markedly different places in their careers (early, mid, and established). These authors helped my students to broaden their definitions of “autofiction” and the “auto-fictional novel.” – Professor Mesha Maren

Throughout the series, students were curious to learn about each author's experiences in writing and with the publishing side of the business.

“The class prior to meeting each author, my classmates and I would discuss their novel in class. We would often talk about the author’s intentions and thought processes, and someone would always express that they wanted to know what the author was thinking when making a specific literary decision.” – Ari Stern, sophomore, English and French

Author Scott McClanahan was this semester's first guest. He discussed his novel The Sarah Book, which the class had read. During his virtual time with the class, McClanahan answered students' questions about The Sarah Book, his experience as a published author, and his writing style.

Malie Lehrer, '23, asked McClanahan how much he considers "truthful" when writing fiction. He replied that he is focused on the truth of fiction more so than the truth of life in his writing.  


Hanna Tawasha inquired about his experience and thoughts on writing in the first-person. 

Mexican author Julían Herbert chatted with Professor Maren's class as the second guest in this series.  Students read the English version of his novel Tomb Song. They asked Herbert about his literary inspirations, writing style, and about having his work translated into English.

Herbert shared that Tomb Song was translated from Spanish to French, Italian, and Portuguese before English. The author's voice was full of joy as he spoke about his English translator Christina McSweeney who he notes has influenced his overall writing. He delights in the fact that McSweeney's focus during translation is as much on the flow of the words as it is on translating them verbatim.

Herbert concluded his visit by reading a passage from Tomb Song in Spanish. The class found it captivating to hear Herbert read in his native tongue with the passion and tone he intended when he put pen to paper.

Novelist Juliet Escoria was the final visitor for the semester. The class read Juliet the Maniac before her visit. Students asked Escoria about the "voice" she used when writing her novel. They wondered if the use of first-person came naturally and if it was difficult to blur the lines between fiction and self-memory in this auto-fictional novel.

Mesha’s class during David L. Paletz Creative Writing Guest Series

During the Q&A session, Escoria asked the class what their take was on the parental figures in Juliet the Manaic. Ironically that had been the topic of a class discussion. This led to a debate on the importance of "time frame" in literature and the role that it can play in garnering the reader's attention. Hence does mentioning an element tied to a specific "time frame" date a piece or prevent it from being timeless? The author and class had an open discussion about the topic, which students found fascinating.

With each author's visit, the class gained insight into the authors' minds. They could ask questions and have them answered directly by the author, which is unusual in an English course.

“I found that meeting different novelists enhanced my classroom experience. I was able to engage with their bodies of work in a more meaningful way as well as being inspired by their journeys as authors."- Hanna Tawasha, senior, Program II Major in Intersectional Inequality Politics

“Being able to sit down with the authors of novels we read and analyzed in an academic setting made crafting a novel seem far less intimidating than I expected. Sometimes it’s difficult to see artists as people, making it difficult to see yourself as a writer, but this helped me see the humanity and “regular-person” side of novelists.”  – Ari Stern, sophomore, English and French

The series allowed Professor Maren's students’ academic experience to transcend scholarly interpretation, enabling them to learn the author's true intent for their words.

The David L. Paletz Creative Writing Guest Series began in the Fall of 2020; since then, seventeen creative writers have visited Duke English "creative writing" courses.

Recordings of the entire David L. Paletz Creative Writing Guest Series is available the Duke English Department website. 

David L. Paletz Creative Writing Guest Series