As part of the Distinguished Visiting Writers series, Nickolas Butler visited Pitt State to share his professional works of fiction. Butler has three published books, two novels, and one collection of short stories, and he is currently working on a fourth.
Butler’s fiction reading was the third amongst this semester’s Distinguished Visiting Writers series readings, held Thursday, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. A reception followed, featuring light beverages and snacks as well as a book sale.
“I think I began writing, I kind of pin-point it around the fifth grade,” Butler said. “I had a really good teacher named Doug Smith and he gave us this yearlong project writing a historical fiction about the westward migration across America and mine was at the end of the year like 125 pages long and that sort of probably started things. So maybe like 10 or 11.”
After taking an interest in writing at such a young age, Butler’s writing style has evolved over the years. He finds inspiration in the world around him and from his own life.
“Listening to people,” Butler said. “Listening to people tell me their stories and also I find that like when you get out of your safe spot, when you get away from your desk and your computer, that the world is out there and the world is inspiring. So anytime I’m sort of even blocked for a minute, I just take a walk or go outside.”
Students who attended Butler’s reading were interested in the content of his stories and the themes he chooses to write about.
“I really like it, I really like his approach to literary work… I’m definitely happy I came,” Zachary Wiggs, graduate student in creative writing, said. “… I think the realism that he takes to what would be simpler topics, I think he really… draws from his life and he makes what could be very bland very interesting and very fun.”
Butler’s stories often provide a realistic atmosphere and topic choice, relating to the everyday life.
“I think I’m not very good at distilling probably like I do thematically, but I think it tends to be about friendship, and marriage, and love, and jealousy, kind of set in the upper Midwest,” Butler said.
Alexis Melson, junior in English, studies creative writing and prior to Butler’s reading, he visited her fiction writing class to lead a discussion.
“Oh, I loved it,” Melson said. “I mean, he spoke in my fiction writing class and I was interested to hear like his stories, the one story he read in that class I really liked and I just wanted to know what else he was going to read… I think I loved the way he talked about the background for the stories, like the inspiration, because a lot of the writers who come here will do a vague background or won’t do a background at all… and he just wanted to tell us his inspiration for the story and everything.”
Both Wiggs and Melson enjoy attending the different Distinguished Visiting Writers series readings, as the series brings forth writers of various styles.
“I think it’s super cool and I wish more students attended because you don’t get this chance at every university, you don’t get the chance at an everyday time to come in and see a writer who’s as well-known and good as Nick, and you just don’t get to see that and I wish more people were here,” Melson said. “… I really hope we keep doing it, too, because I love it.”
Wiggs agreed because bringing authors like Butler to campus assists students also interested in becoming published.
“I think I really like it and I think they should do it even more often if we have the funding to do it, but it really shows writers from all different kinds of perspectives and how they’ve come to be who they are and I think it gives other writers who want to be bigger kind of the means to do it.”
On his path toward becoming an author, Butler had to overcome various difficult obstacles, like being five hours away from his family while in graduate school. Even with these difficulties, though, he is content with his career.
“I just think that my whole life, books have been a huge component about my life, so I can’t imagine my life without books and I think becoming a writer was sort of a natural extension of that and I love it because I’m my own boss, I get to daydream for a living, create art,” Butler said.