On Thursday, Feb. 22 in Gaylord Hall, Matt Kirkpatrick lectured for Colorado College’s Block 6 Visiting Writers Series. A collaboration between the English Department and the McLean Visiting Writers Endowment, the Visiting Writers Series invites an accomplished writer to CC each block. The writer is given the opportunity to present their writing and expound upon their background and writing career. Kirkpatrick read excerpts from his three novels—“Light Without Heat” (2012), “The Exiles” (2013), and “Diary of a Pennsylvania Farmer” (2018)—as well as from his latest manuscript.
Kirkpatrick received his Ph.D. from the University of Utah and is currently an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Eastern Michigan University. According to the English Department at Eastern Michigan University, Kirkpatrick focuses his teaching on experimental and digital fiction and poetry. He has contributed to numerous literary journals, including The Common, The Rumpus, and The Conium Review.
Kirkpatrick was introduced to the audience by Tanner Haughn ’19, an English major and philosophy minor. She discussed her initial encounter with Kirkpatrick’s work which was when reading his debut, “Light without Heat.” Haughn described her experience as both a “stumbling across and a stumbling through.” As she read the collection of short stories within “Light without Heat,” “the list-like format and collection of fragmented conversations from obscure voices… bid [her] to slow down.”
Haughn’s personification of Kirkpatrick’s writing captures the author’s experimental yet compelling style. “By the end, I sat still and glorified in the way that [Kirkpatrick’s] author voice, the voices’ voices, and my own reader voice tag-teamed,” Haughn commented.
Yet, Haughn mourned the “literary grief” she experienced upon finishing “Light without Heat”—a bittersweet relinquish of being unable to experience the joys of reading a story again for the first time.
Kirkpatrick proceeded to take his audience deeper into “literary grief” as he robbed them of the opportunity to ever again hear his voice give life to the previously silent stories of words on a page. He opened the lecture with an excerpt from his manuscript, which was set in the 20th century art museum. Similar to many of Kirkpatrick’s previous novels, his manuscript utilized narration of multiple voices. Written from the perspectives of a museum visitor and a curator frustrated with the mediocre quality of his museum, the story was told through a series of vivid descriptions of the institution’s paintings.
Kirkpatrick emphasized how the contrasting sensory perceptions of the two narrators enhanced the plot development by complementing one another. While Kirkpatrick intended for his novel to be narrated through only the viewpoint of the curator, his publisher’s concern over the fragmented storyline compelled him to add another voice to complement the curator’s perspective.
Additionally, Kirkpatrick read from his most recent publication, “Diary of a Pennsylvania Farmer,” which both reflects his childhood in Pennsylvania and parodies the religious sentiment of the Puritanical Northeast. Haughn noted that the intimacy of the diary format enabled a silent reading of this book. Kirkpatrick’s narration removed the reader from the pressing urgency of daily life and instead translated the real world into words on a page.
Literature is a complex art; the multiple dimensions of the characters’ voices, the reader’s own voice, and the author’s voice itself are essential to capturing the entirety of a story. Only together do these three facets enable print on a page to come alive.
Despite inflicting his audience with “literary grief,” Kirkpatrick allowed audience members to experience the dimension of how his own voice contributed to the intricate craft of his stories.