A crowd of eager students attended the Readers’ Series Tuesday, featuring two Binghamton University professors who double as bestselling authors.
On Tuesday evening, the Binghamton Center for Writers held its first night of a two-part series exhibiting the literary work of Liz Rosenberg and Alexi Zentner.
This is Zentner’s first semester teaching at BU. He is the author of the bestselling novel “Touch” and the forthcoming novel “The Lobster Kings,” out in May. He’s also a winner of the 2008 O. Henry Award for short stories and has been published in The Atlantic.
Rosenberg, who has been teaching at BU since 1979, is an author of books for both children and adults. She read two poems at the event, one about her husband, David, and one about her daughter, Lily. Rosenberg’s husband is David Bosnick, a professor in the philosophy, politics and law department. Her daughter was also in attendance.
The poem that Rosenberg read about Lily was published in The New Yorker. “The Birthday Party” tells the story about how no one from her daughter’s playgroup brought gifts to her daughter’s second birthday party.
Rosenberg began writing children’s stories when she was pregnant with her first child 26 years ago, when two weeks into her pregnancy, unaware she was pregnant, she had a dream that inspired her to write.
“I write for my husband David,” Rosenberg said, “and the people that I love.”
Rosenberg also read from her latest novel, “The Laws of Gravity,” about two cousins who have a legal battle on Long Island. Many of us can sympathize.
“She does a really good job of place,” said Alicia Holland, a senior majoring in English, who is taking Rosenberg’s course, Creative Writing 380P: Experience of Place, this semester. Holland explained that Rosenberg emphasizes the importance of both physical and social place in literature to her students, which was evident in “The Laws of Gravity.”
Rosenberg decided to make the family in the novel Jewish and set them in a Jewish place because the religion both values and grapples with themes of law, justice, family and obligation.
While Rosenberg’s work comes from a place of love and warmth, Zentner’s is darker and more cynical.
“I’m generally a happy person,” Zentner quipped, “[but] my writing is not.”
Zentner appears to be lighthearted, but from his writing selections the audience realized that his work is haunting and evocative. He began his reading with the essay “Orchard,” which is supposed to embody “what it means to be a teacher and then see what happens to [students] when they grow up.”
His second piece, “Hurtings,” dealt with Zentner’s anger and frustration as a father toward his two young daughters. He compares himself to his own father, who felt anchored to his children. Zentner feels the same way, but what distinguishes him from his father is that even though he feels “anchored underwater” by his children, he finds the “joy of breathing underwater.” It was a dark and honest explanation that deeply struck members of the audience.
“I really liked ‘Hurtings,’” said Max Lin, a senior majoring in English. “I thought he did a great job about tying things together.”
Zentner said he does not usually write from his own personal experiences, but seeks voices removed from himself. He prefers using different settings because it affects the characters and their choices, which is evident in both his first novel, “Touch,” and his newest work, “The Lobster Kings,” which Zentner also read from at the event.
“There is a power to using a setting where the place matters,” Zentner said.
Both Rosenberg and Zentner’s work left an impression on the audience and showed them how privileged BU students are to have the chance to learn from such talented writers.