On Thursday, April 15, professional writer and college professor Yuly Restrepo Gárces virtually attended Professor Lori Martin’s ENGL 452 class to present a reading of one of her short stories, answer craft questions, and provide students with a quick fiction exercise.
The reading was advertised through the English department’s social media, so students from other classes and members of the community were encouraged to attend.
Professor Martin chose Restrepo to read due to their past together, as both were previous students of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and the amount of care Restrepo puts into the creation of her stories.
“I’ve been reading Yuly’s work for a while,” Martin said. “We went to grad school together at Iowa and were both in the same workshops. I’ve always been astonished by the level of detail in her stories, the way she creates worlds. Most of her stories are set in Colombia, her native country, and the stories seem to draw strength from being placed there.”
During Thursday’s reading, Restrepo read a section from “Pablo Escobar,” a story featured in “Tampa Bay Noir.” She later discussed her creative process and some of the planning that went into the creation of her story.
“I think this story was a very particular case for me,” Restrepo said in response to a question about the story’s conception. “I don’t write fiction that’s set in the United States typically. (For example), the novel that I’m writing and trying to sell right now is set in Columbia. All my short stories had been set in Columbia, but I was approached by the editor of the anthology since, because the anthology is called “Tampa Bay Noir”, the story should obviously be set in Tampa. I have read a bunch of noir novels, I have watched a lot of noir movies, but I was like ‘I have no idea how to write this, like I just didn’t think I could.’ So, to her credit, our editor said we could interpret noir as loosely as we wanted to. One of the things that I thought about was how to approach this, and for me it was through the ‘seedy details’ of Florida. That meant I really had to think about how to approach the town (which I’ve lived in for most of my life) in a way that is charged with detail. The best way for me to do that was to have a narrator who was brand new to the place, and so she is noticing everything.”
After the reading, Martin was particularly impressed by Restrepo’s explanation of her revision process. “Yuly talked about revising a story 10 or more times before she is happy with it,” Martin said. “…she pulled out a notebook, the lines of which were filled with writing. She said that, at one time, she’d been self-conscious about her ability to characterize, so she now sometimes compensates by creating detailed character studies before she ever begins writing the story. I would hope that students might take encouragement from that. It’s very rare to get something so complex as a story or poem perfectly the first time. And the revision process is often tedious, but necessary.”
Alexis Melson, graduate student in creative writing, also found the reading very engaging and inspirational.
“Yuly read a fantastic story and I would love to read the whole thing,” Melson said. “She was really knowledgeable about not only what she wrote and read, but also about what she presented during the writing portion of the reading. She had strong questions that allowed me to think about the readings and learn new things about the readings and the stories/histories behind them. Time flew by during the reading and I could’ve sat there and just listened to her read or even do more writing exercises for another hour without noticing.”
Restrepo was invited to read as a part of the Distinguished Visiting Writer’s series, which allows PSU to bring established writers to campus so students can learn more about the writing field and methods of craft.