SACO, Maine — Everyone has an imagination, but a sense of curiosity is crucial to be a good writer.
That’s the advice from best-selling author Andres Dubus III to students at a lecture Thursday afternoon at Thornton Academy.
Dubus spoke to juniors and seniors, answered questions, spoke about his book, “House of Sand and Fog” and the writing process and told anecdotes from his life.
Dubus said his experiences as a father of three and a teacher for 20 years have reinforced one belief: Everyone has an imagination.
“Every single human in this room has an incredible imagination,” he told the students.
One quality of imagination needed to be a good writer is a sense of curiosity, he said. Dubus said many people have tried to analyze William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” with “very smart interpretations,” although when asked what inspired the book, Faulkner said it was a pair of dirty underwear in a tree.
Dubus said writers have opinions and intellect, but he said he believes that contrary to what many are taught, most writers are writing to tell a story and aren’t writing to say something more profound, with a deeper meaning, said Dubus.
Dubus reinforced the necessities for writing well, again referencing Faulkner, who also said what is needed to be a good writer isn’t talent but curiosity, the ability to wonder and muse why people do the things that they do.
Dubus told the story of how the image of a wad of cash on a dresser inspired his book “The Garden of Last Days,” as he imagined the cash to be tips from a stripper, and then he thought about Sept. 11 hijackers who were rumored to enjoy going to a strip club.
When asked about how he began writing a story, he said he did not use an outline, as an outline is a safety net than can limit the writer.
“I think it’s better to walk on the tightrope above the flames with no net,” he said.
When asked how he drew from his life in his novels, he told the story of how, when on the Oprah Winfrey Show, he found himself feeling hurt that Winfrey didn’t like a specific character. He later realized that it was because he put part of himself in that character, as well as other characters he wrote about.
Seniors Katie Lees and Sean Speckin, who both read “House of Sand and Fog” in their Advanced Placement English class said they enjoyed Dubus’ presentation.
“It was amazing,” said Lees.
Lees said Dubus offered a different perspective on the writing process than she’d heard before, and Speckin said he thought it was interesting that Dubus said that instead of finding a deeper meaning to a book, you should just take it as a story.
Dubus was also scheduled to speak to the community Thursday evening. His presentation Thursday afternoon was the inaugural talk in the Lloyd Hunt Lecture series, which was established by faculty after Hunt’s 2010 retirement as director of instruction to honor his legacy and passion for teaching.
“It kind of blows me away,” said Hunt of the lecture series Thursday afternoon. “It’s much nicer than a plaque,” he said. “It’s something that’s alive.”
Hunt said he was honored to have Dubus as the first speaker in the series. He said Dubus challenged students to find their own voice and express it.
The series is funded by donations made in Hunt’s honor and the school’s endowment, according to Christopher Indorf, TA’s associate head for teaching and learning.
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