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Answers Elude Rick Bass: Prolific Writer Kicks Off Visiting Writers Series

“I don’t know what it is, but it is magic,” Rick Bass, author of over 30 books of fiction and nonfiction, told his audience in the Psych Building the night of Thursday Sept. 20. Bass kicked off Reed’s annual Visiting Writers series not with a bang, but with a thoughtful stare.

Bass was trying to describe his writing process. He focused on one of the lights illuminating his face, seemingly lost for words, coming close to a proper explication just before the words would elude him further. “I don’t know… I mean, it’s just magic… but who am I to know, I’ve only written a couple books here and there,” he mumbled in a way that made the joke not immediately apparent. What did become apparent was that Bass wasn’t lost for words; he was lost in them.

Even those of the literary set that might not be familiar with Bass may have seen his name recently, as his book-length essay In My Home There Is No More Sorrow was the feature in one of the latest issues of McSweeney’s. That essay, detailing ten days spent tracking gorillas and meeting locals in the Rwandan wilderness, is very much in the vein of Bass’s usual themes. Bass’s writing tends to have a strong focus on environmentalism, as he has written books about the conservation of natural land, indigenous cultures, and endangered species.

The selected story that he read on Thursday night also dealt with similar ideas, this time tackling the greed and gluttony of modern America through a parable of two brothers. Bass offered some very idiosyncratic advice to his listeners on how to write with a message, saying, “Never have your end message in mind when you begin writing. Make the pictures and sentences pretty first, so the reader will want to read. Then, when they realize ‘Oh shit, he’s preaching!’ they’ll still want to keep reading.”

It was clear that Bass was not going to give the audience all the answers, or even more than a couple of them. But, if anything, that became the lesson of his talk: You don’t have to know the answers to understand them. He said himself, “Sometimes it is better to imagine than to experience.” Even if he can’t put that magical feeling of writing into words, he knows he can share the feeling with all of us, and we can imagine what he himself is feeling.

The next author in the Visiting Writer series is Lysley Tenorio, who will be speaking on October 4th at 6:30 PM in Psych 105.

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