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On-campus organization allows students to share unfinished work

Left: Brenda Usher-Carpino, a resumer getting her MFA in prose, reads her work in progress from the podium. Right: An audience gathers to support the readers. (Tarin Griggs)

Linda King took to the podium in the Bender Room. In her theatrical reading, the volume and inflection of her voice rose and fell to reflect different characters and scenes she introduced in her writing. Her words were vivid, striking and compelling.

On Feb. 1, first-year graduate student Linda King began the semester’s first of five Works in Progress Readings, an ongoing series hosted by on-campus organization The Place for Writers that is meant to help writers make their written words come to life. While this reading series is open to the entire Mills community, it is most popular among graduate students that want to support their friends and colleagues.

According to their website, the Place for Writers, which is staffed by English grad students, aims to build relationships between Mills students, writers, publishers and teachers.

Eboni Dunbar, a teacher’s assistant for The Place for Writers and one of the readers, views the series as a way for graduate students like herself to begin to perfect the art of reading aloud by reading their theses.

“When you hear your work read aloud you start to realize, ‘That doesn’t work the way I thought I did.’ Some people get stuck on the page,” Dunbar said.

Second-year Vanessa Ta, another reader, also sees the importance of reading work aloud; she said the experience is different when a poem is heard out loud instead of read.

“I’m interested in sound, (and) the way sounds can portray different meanings and how breaking words in certain different places can alter how you perceive them,” Ta said. “When you read something you have to choose how you read it anyway.”

For other participants, the Works in Progress Series provides a way to share unfinished pieces, some of which may be deeply personal.

“I’ve been rewriting (my thesis) and revising it and writing new stuff since being at Mills,” said second-year reader Brenda Usher-Carpino. “My life impacts my work to a great extent. That’s what I draw on when I write.”

Putting their work out there for the Mills community has made some writers question how they want to present their work in the future.

“Sometimes you can get the idea that (writing is) just an expression; it’s just a creative outlet,” Dunbar said. “When you’re looking at master’s programs, you have to think about what’s coming afterward: Are you sending work out? Are you going to teach?”

The Place for Writers attempts to cater to grad students’ concerns about the future. In March, the organization is hosting Pitch Fest, a networking opportunity for graduate students to share their work with agents.

“I definitely want to finish my novel and, hopefully, get it published,” Usher-Carpino said. “I guess that’s kind of a long-term goal.”

But for Dunbar, it’s about the actual experience of reading the work for an audience.

“The audience is always going to get a really interesting viewpoint on literature and poetry and hear amazing new work,” Dunbar said. “For me, the focus is more on what the readers get out of (the Series).”

The next Works in Progress readings are scheduled for Feb. 22 and March 1.