A Visit From Maureen McHugh

If Colorado College students ever check their Worner box, it’s almost certain that they know about the Visiting Writers Series. Even if they’ve never attended a single event, the brightly colored, feathered poster arrives every semester. 

The program, managed by the English Department and sponsored by the MacLean Visiting Writers Endowment, along with co-sponsors such as The Press, the Journalist-in Residence Program, and the Hulbert Center for Southwest Studies, puts on events several times a block. Since its inception, the program has brought hundreds of emerging and established writers to campus. 

“There are people who really look forward to the series,” said English Department Chair Steven Hayward, noting that posters advertising the program are put up in local libraries and other locations around town. The events are free and open to the public. 

Hayward and his colleagues form a committee that takes input from students and others on campus to select authors to bring to campus. Sometimes those authors are already at the college as visiting professors; sometimes they’re friends or acquaintances of professors within the department; and sometimes they’re simply prominent authors who people wish to bring to campus.

“We try to put together an interesting, diverse, inclusive series,” Hayward said. Authors who are not already teaching a class for the block visit classes and provide opportunities for discussion and teaching, in addition to the reading they do for the series. 

Hayward, a published author, is co-teaching a senior seminar creative writing workshop this block with Maureen McHugh, a visiting author who spoke on Feb. 26 in McHugh Commons.

Photo By Daniel Sarché

McHugh, who published her first story in 1988, is now working in Los Angeles as a writer for alternate-reality video games. “I refer to myself as a bottom-feeder in Hollywood,” she said, mentioning high-profile video games, such as Halo 2, that she’s worked on.

At this event, McHugh read a new, unpublished story for the first time. Authors and creative writing majors, according to McHugh, are continually being told to “show, not tell,” so this story was her “perverse attempt to write a story almost entirely by telling.”

The reading lasted less than an hour, but it was an absorbing one, as McHugh narrated the story of a girl in her first year at college, struggling with orientation, religion, art, boyfriends, depression, and the fae. It’s fantastical, humorous, and serious all at the same time, and the audience laughed often. Remarkably, it’s all the more captivating because it’s written entirely in second person.

As for her motivation in writing the piece, McHugh said she’s read studies that say “you do things, and then your brain tells you you meant to.” 

“This feels like a pretty good description for life,” McHugh said, and it was something she wanted to explore more. 

Only a few details in the piece are autobiographical — an art show McHugh actually visited, for instance — but she said, “It is, in another sense, completely and totally autobiographical.” 

McHugh’s books and short story collections, including “Mothers and Other Monsters” and “After the Apocalypse,” are available in the bookstore, and there are seven more author readings scheduled for the remainder of the year, including such well-known authors as Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of “Between the World and Me”, and Marvel comics “The Black Panther” and “Captain America.” 

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