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Novelist Fay Weldon to speak April 6

by Beth Krane - March 27, 2006

Renowned British novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Fay Weldon will be on campus April 4 through April 6 as this semester’s Aetna Visiting Writer-in-Residence.

Weldon, famous for her early exploration of women’s issues, published her 25th novel, She May Not Leave, in the United Kingdom in September.

She also has written several collections of short stories, and many plays for television, radio, and the stage, including the pilot episode for the television series Upstairs, Downstairs.

The author will give a give free public reading of her work on Thursday, April 6 at 8 p.m. in the Dodd Center’s Konover Auditorium.

She will spend the rest of her three days on campus visiting English classes and holding one-on-one writing tutorials with a dozen undergraduate and graduate students, who had to apply for the opportunity and submit portfolios of their writing for Weldon’s review as part of the process.

English professor and feminist author Gina Barreca says students are looking forward to Weldon’s upcoming visit: “They have read her books. They know they have a chance to see someone playing in the big leagues. Their mothers and fathers know her work. Hers are the books they pass around to roommates. This is one writer who translates important issues into the vocabulary and currency of their own lives.”

Barreca, who in 1994 edited Fay Weldon’s Wicked Fictions, a collection of 18 of the writer’s essays, is teaching a course on Weldon’s works this spring.

She considers Weldon a mentor and close friend.

She says the writer embodies “both the good witch of the east and the wicked witch of the west – good in her astonishing personal generosity and wicked in her delineation of female characters who break every social and cultural rule ever carved into a foundation compact.”

Weldon, who was raised by her mother, grandmother, and sister in New Zealand and later in London, has said she never considered herself a feminist author, in part because she wasn’t familiar with any feminist authors when she began writing in the 1960s.

“I never wrote feminist books. I just wrote books about the world as I knew it,” she says.

The prolific author, who majored in economics at the university level and never studied writing in a formal setting, is modest about her upcoming visit to UConn.

“I don’t know any better than the students do,” says Weldon, who began her writing career as an advertising copy writer.

“What every young writer has to learn is that nobody knows your work, your writing, better than you do. Anyone who is taught to write creative literature must learn the art of fighting back. Writers need to develop their own ideas and ways of doing things.”

Weldon, who recently took a position as Chair of Creative Writing at Brunel University in West London, says, however, that “you can teach how not to write, what not to do, and then students can argue and fight back.”

Penelope Pelizzon, director of UConn’s Creative Writing Program, says the Aetna Visiting Writer-in-Residence program “provides students with a unique opportunity to get critical feedback on their writing from an artistic master.

“Furthermore, by sharing meals and conversation with the visiting writer, our students get to experience a friendly exchange with the writer outside the classroom,” Pelizzon says.

“All of this reminds students that they are not just taking a creative writing class, but that they are part of a community of writers that extends beyond the confines of the classroom.”

Weldon is the sixth Aetna Visiting Writer-in-Residence since the program was established in 2003.

Her visit is sponsored by the Aetna Chair in Writing, the English Department’s Creative Writing Program, and the Women’s Center.

Past Aetna Visiting Writers- in-Residence have been Edmund White, Laurie Stone, Sherod Santos, Colum McCann, and Lynne McMahon.

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