Finding words that capture fleeting beauty of experience

By Nathaniel Davis - Guest Column
Nov. 4, 2015 at 4:27 p.m.

Nathaniel Davis

Nathaniel Davis   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

On Thursday, the University of Houston-Victoria has the pleasure of hosting a reading by renowned writer Carole Maso, author of 10 books and professor of literary arts at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Maso's writing bridges the categories of fiction, poetry, essay and memoir, and two of her books - "AVA" (1993) and "The American Woman in the Chinese Hat" (1994) - were published by UHV's own Dalkey Archive Press.

Maso was born in Paterson, N.J., home of the legendary American poet William Carlos Williams, and her work features a free-form approach to writing similar to that pioneered by Williams. After completing her undergraduate degree at Vassar College, Maso spent nine years undergoing what she calls "an apprenticeship," learning to write by writing and working odd jobs to support herself. These years of independent development resulted in her first novel, "Ghost Dance," published in 1986 to critical acclaim.

From the beginning, Maso's work has pushed the formal boundaries of fiction, using poetic language and unconventional approaches to plot and narration to tell stories that are fictional yet deeply personal. Maso has explained that her unorthodox style stems from the fact that most of her primary influences are not novelists, but are instead poets, artists, dancers and filmmakers.

The rich diversity of language and style in a book like "AVA" reflects this multimedia approach: on the same page, a poetic expression of yearning may be followed by a precise description of a lavish meal, a philosophical axiom or a cinematic observation of a scene from daily life.

Maso describes her writing as an attempt to remain open to all the forms of beauty that a person may encounter in life. Throughout her work, moments of ephemeral beauty and grace are captured in elegant sentences and displayed like butterflies in an insect collection. The constant in Maso's books is a state of receptiveness to the fundamental mystery of life, and she hopes through her writing to create "spacious fields of narration in which the reader might feel alive and vibrant and possible and free."

Travel is very important to Maso's writing, and her quest for beauty takes her characters across the globe, from New York to Southern France to Venice to Brazil and beyond. As readers, we are allowed to partake in sublime moments of harmony in these exotic locales seen through the eyes of Maso's narrators.

Formally, Maso's writing achieves a rare and difficult balance: while it is experimental, idiosyncratic and innovative, it is at the same time accessible to anyone willing to take a chance and surrender to the words on the page. Maso's reading at UHV this week will surely be a treat for anyone interested in taking such a plunge.

Maso will appear as part of the UHV/American Book Review Reading Series at noon Thursday in the Alcorn Auditorium in UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

Nathaniel Davis is assistant editor at Dalkey Archive Press, an international nonprofit publisher based at the University of Houston-Victoria.


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