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  October 16, 2000

Bloom Takes a Light-Hearted Look
at the Flavor of Creativity

Good cooking and good writing, like the other arts and sciences, "entail a great deal of improvisation and revision, lots of work and lots of fun," according to Lynn Bloom, professor of English and Aetna Chair of Writing.

Bloom made this observation during a keynote address, "Writing and Cooking, Cooking and Writing: Savoring Creativity," part of the celebration of faculty research and creativity Oct. 5 at the Dodd Center's Konover Auditorium.

Bloom said creativity sustains all good research and good teaching. "But I'm well aware that talking about creativity is like talking about love," she said. "Everybody knows what they mean by the term, few can define it to anyone else's satisfaction, and everyone has their own way of doing it.

"As a literary scholar and writer I've spent a professional lifetime in two major endeavors, trying to understand writers' creative processes and trying to teach composition students how to enhance their own creativity," she said. "I wrote my doctoral dissertation on literary biography in hopes that biographers would reveal the secrets of how creative writers wrote poetry, plays, fiction.

"But the biographers flunked the test. Creativity was for them inexplicable. And so it remains for me," she said. "After three decades of research I still haven't been able to find satisfactory analyses of the 'aha!' moment, or infallible rules for creative success. So I advise my students to do what explorers and innovators in every field do - to maintain, as Einstein says, 'a holy curiosity'; to take risks, to question authority and, in the process, to assume authority."

Bloom, who loves to cook, told the audience she was offering them an extended analogy between writing and cooking to "demonstrate the creative understanding that creative people experience but find impossible to explain.

"Both writing and cooking, like other creative endeavors, involve coming up with a good idea and some sense of what the end result should be. They require a base of knowledge to draw on and expertise to interpret it in order to figure out how to get to the goal," she said.

"Writing and cooking, like all creative enterprises, are embedded in life - a messy but ultimately pleasing mixture of the personal and the professional that has no ending, but which we savor in this celebration," Bloom said.

She interspersed her talk with readings from her lighthearted nonfiction essay, which will be published in a book titled Pilaf, Pozole, Padthai: American Women and Ethnic Food at the end of the year.

Before reading from her light-hearted - but not lightweight - essay, Bloom invited the audience to imagine themselves sitting outside on a summer day clustered around tables with beverages of their choice and a plate of brownies at the center of each table.

"My name is Lynn and I'll be your writer for the rest of the afternoon. The special for the day follows. Enjoy," she said.

Brief remarks were also given by Ian Hart, interim vice provost for research and graduate education and dean of the Graduate School, and Chancellor John D. Petersen.

Sherry Fisher