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Wally Lamb reflects on writer's craft
October 13, 1998

Wally Lamb says his life as an educator helps him with his life as a writer.

Lamb, associate professor of English and author of two best-selling novels, delivered the address at an event celebrating faculty research and creativity on Wednesday.

The address was followed by a reception in the 24-hour study room of Homer Babbidge Library, where numerous scholarly and creative works by faculty members were on display.

During his speech, Lamb recreated himself as a character for the audience, from his experiences as a child, to being a UConn student in the 1960s, to being regarded in his 40s as "the Geezer" by his children.

"My main mission at Storrs, my chief value to the University, is to be of service in the classroom, to teach, to ignite fires in the eyeballs of undergraduates and then stand back and watch the learning happen," he said.

"That sometimes happens predictably according to the syllabus, but often times in less predictable ways," Lamb told his audience in the Konover Auditorium at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

Chancellor Mark A. Emmert introduced Lamb. He noted that the second Celebration of Faculty Research and Creativity gives UConn the opportunity to"pause and reflect on the wonderful, high quality work" of faculty and students in pursuing the University's mission. That mission, he said, is "to study the world around us, to study nature, to consider the plight of mankind," and then pass on what we learn to others. He said Wally Lamb is an example of "how we fulfill that wonderful charge."

Lamb, author of the novels She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, recalled that he wrote much of his first novel in long hand in the old 24-hour study room of Homer Babbidge Library, "fueled by gallons of Store 24 coffee." He also told the audience how he had a contract for a second novel without a story or characters.

Lamb came to UConn after years of teaching at the high school level.

"College and high school teaching are very different and very much the same," he said.

"I teach in a workshop setting in both places, where students can critique each other's work," Lamb said. "What I really love about UConn is that people tend to bring X number of years more experience to what they write. I may have students ranging in age from their teens to their 40s."

Lamb said that teaching and writing compete with each other in terms of time, but feed each other in other ways.

"When you give something you've written to students, you often get insightful criticism. They are impatient with things told falsely," he said.

Lamb said he's always had trouble organizing his time, but "the balancing act between teaching and writing creates the tension that keeps me going."

He said he doesn't particularly like to write, "but finding out what's going to happen (to my characters) keeps me going. I worry about my characters the way I worry about my kids."

In response to questions from the audience, Lamb said he hasn't started a third novel: that will wait until he completes a screenplay of She's Come Undone early next year. He said he doesn't have a title for his next novel, but will start from notes he's made. He doesn't come up with titles until he's finished with a novel, he said, because he waits to see how the story will end.

Lamb said he didn't like to read when he was young, but drew stories on scraps of paper. "I think it was the visual that drew me into writing," he said.

The event was sponsored by the American Association of University Professors UConn Chapter, the Office of the Chancellor, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education.

Ken Ross