Memoirs and Mercy

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Nationally recognized writer Robin Romm reads at Columbia Writers Series

Clark College welcomed nationally recognized short-fiction writer and memoirist Robin Romm in May during its renowned Columbia Writers Series.

A native of Eugene, Ore., Romm is the author of two books, a chapbook and numerous articles and book reviews. Her story collection, “The Mother Garden” was a finalist for the PEN USA prize. Her memoir, “The Mercy Papers” was named a best book of the year by The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and Entertainment Weekly. Currently she lives in Portland, Ore., and teaches writing in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College.

Romm was introduced by English instructor Alexis Nelson, who helped organize the event. Clark student Kesha Fisher, who won the Best Fiction award from Phoenix, read an excerpt from her winning story. Romm read from “The Mercy Papers,” her memoir about her mother’s slow death from breast cancer.

Afterward, she took questions from the audience about the book and the writing process in general. When asked whether she was worried what her family would think of the unflattering depictions of them in her memoir, she explained that the book originally was a writing exercise for her own personal use and she never intended for it to be published.

“I worry what the cashier at Target thinks of me,” she said. “I would have been paralyzed.”

Another audience member asked what aspiring writers can do to develop their talents. Romm’s advice: Read a lot, take classes that expose you to different writing styles and put the smart phone back in your pocket.

“Writing requires the ability to see,” she explained. “I just got an iPhone and it’s been horrible for my writing work. … Ask yourself, ‘How much are you observing the world and eavesdropping on others’ conversations, and how much are you watching YouTube? Because probably no one has written a novel from watching YouTube.”

Romm’s reading was part of Subtext, a three-day festival of arts and literature at Clark College. The Columbia Writers Series was launched at Clark College in 1988, bringing local, national and international authors to the college and the region.

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