ISU Creative Writer Blends Literary Genres, Seeks To Challenge His Readers

Dec 21, 2016

ISU creative writing professor Gabriel Gudding says literature should make us confront what's difficult.
Credit Illinois State University

Illinois State University creative writing professor Gabriel Gudding specializes is crossing literary genres.

His work often mixes poetry with essay, memoir, history and even scientific research. He wrote one collection of poems as a notebook chronicling his frequent road trips between Illinois and Rhode Island to visit his daughter.

Gudding also isn't afraid to take on complex subjects. His most recent book is Literature for Nonhumans, which explores the often regrettable relationship between humans and the animal and plant worlds.

A  vegan who doesn't eat any animal products, including cheese and eggs, he compares the suffering of farm animals to an unending concentration camp.

Gudding said he believes art should challenge, inform and spark action.

"There is this charge against poetry that I do tend to agree with, that it can be politically quietistic," Gudding said on GLT's "Sound Ideas."

"I think it should get down there and teach us things, ethical things, political things. That's the role of literature, to help us face what we don't want to face,"he added.

In writing and researching Literature for Nonhumans, Gudding said he was surprised by "the degree to which we manufacture apathy about other animals."

He said this is practiced at a semi-conscious, non-conscious level.

"Part of that apathy is a kind of antipathy. There is an anger toward non-human beings and you see this in slaughter houses," Gudding said.

He encourages people to examine their eating practices. "We don't want to look at ...what we do to sustain the kind of brutality and apathy (necessary) to eat that way," he said.

Gudding began eating a vegan diet in 2010  as an "ethical" choice, but said he has reaped health benefits."I actually like food more. My heart rate dropped 10 beats a minute, my blood pressure improved dramatically."

Like his other books, Literature for Nonhumans  contains a variety of styles. He said literary genres lend themselves to cross-pollinization.

"I feel poetry is non-fiction, so it has similarities with non-fiction, homologies with non-fiction anyway," he said.

The ISU creative writing program encourages "hybridity, trans-generic writing, cross-generic writing," he sadi. "We encourage our students to not stick to one genre, but to blend and experiment."

His earlier book, Rhode Island Notebook, is the amalgamation of his experiences and thoughts driving 36 hours over numerous weekend on round trips between Illinois and Rhode Island to visit with his daughter.

"I thought I needed to use this time and I always wanted to write a notebook," he said. "I was fascinated with the genre and the eclectic nature of what gets included, and the kind of interesting conjunctions that  happen in  notebooks."

The book contains collage, radio and audio book snippets, essays, history lessons, even drafts of poems. "Things I would never publish otherwise, that would be embarrassing just from a craft perspective. It's a  mish mash," he said.

Some of his readers have compared it to Jack Kerouac's On the Road, but Gudding said he has never read Kerouac's classic road trip book from the 1950s.

Gudding's work is often dense, highly personal and  some would say, not easily accessible. He says writers must tread a delicate ridge between speaking plainly with their readers and challenging them.

"It's important to write in a number of different registers," he said. "One of the things art has going for it is its difficulty." He calls it making "the stones stony again."

It means putting "a purposeful strangeness" into a piece of writing, he explained, to pull readers out of their common habits of perception.

"We tend to live in routine and automated ways. We live our lives with conceptional habit, behavioral habit. What art does is make the reader slow down ... Yeats would talk about what he calls the fascination with what's difficult," he said.

Writers can take that too aim too far, he acknowledged. But, he added, "I'm happy to say I willingly risk that. Sometimes I hit it on the mark I think. It's  struggle for any writer. You have to keep writing and experimenting pushing yourself."

His earliest book is called In Defense of Poetry. The title is somewhat tongue in cheek, he suggested, because poetry needs no defense.

"Poetry is important because it helps us see the world and feel the world after we've forgotten about it. The purpose of are is to help us uncover what's important."

You can find more on Gudding in the latest edition of Redbird Scholar.

Tags: