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MFA students present their works in progress

Correction: The person drinking Jagermeister was Sean Manzano Labrador. Also, Reed Kellman was incorrectly identified. He is a fiction writer.

A discrimination bill has just been passed in Oregon. The protagonist, a butch woman who works with the forest service, has been indicted and as she grapples with her upcoming court date, her friend teases her by interrogating her about her outfit choice, asking how she will address the jurors or how she could possibly hide her butch characteristics. Said protagonist responds by picking apart spears of asparagus.

This is the premise for Tanya Pluth's novel in progress, which she read at the Works in Progress on Sept. 19. Christine Lee Zilka, Reed Kellman, Michelle Simotas, Sean Manzano Labrador and creative writing professor Yiyun Li also read. The students that participate in Works in Progress events are all second-year MFA students. The "work in progress" is usually the student's working thesis or novel.

The basis for Christine Lee Zilka's piece is that the Korean demilitarized zone has become a lush forest. This forest keeps a tiger with many annoying tendencies alive forever. The protagonist begins as a young girl and is transformed into a bear and, in order to survive, must relate to her arrogant new tiger friend.

Each writer's limit was seven minutes. They wrote their own bios to go with their readings which were read at the beginning of the evening. Some listed accomplishments and places of residence, while others embellished or substituted facts. One aligned himself with a famous character.

"Reed Kellman was the original inspiration for the character Indiana Jones," he wrote. "When he is not desecrating tombs or escaping low-flying planes he is writing … and winning Pulitzers."

Before reading his poetry, Kellman set a small green bottle on the podium. He took a swig of the bottle filled with Jagermeister, looked at the label then said, "If ever I was to be a billboard, this is what I'd be."

When one writer passed another at the podium, a look was passed between them that seemed to say "good luck."

"I'm completely terrified," said Alexandra Kostoulas, second year MFA in fiction of her chance to read in upcoming months.

Before Pluth read from her novel-in-progress she said, "If everyone could just imagine I was a really good writer, I could just leave."

When she read, the audience was captivated and seemed to drink in her every word. She kept her eyes down the entire time.

The Works in Progress event was largely attended by MFA students, friends and family.

"They don't often send out announcements on student-news," said Tessa Lyon, a sophomore English major.

Her reason for attending Works in Progress is, "to hear what other people around me are doing." Lyon regularly borrows old MFA theses from the library and reads them for fun, and spoke while balancing one thesis on her head.

Lyon tries to attend all of the events put out by the Place for Writers. She thinks that more undergraduates would attend if they knew about the events.

Before Li read, she made an announcement. Her first novel, A Thousand Years of Good Prayer had just been published that day. The announcement was followed by enthusiastic applause. Li, a new professor at Mills this year, read an excerpt from her new novel.

"Everyone was outstanding," said Julia Rubin, a first-year MFA in fiction.

The number of Works in Progress events that are put on each year depends on demand. This semester, there will be three, while next semester there will be four.

The next Works in Progress will take place in the Bender Room on Nov. 8 from 5-6:30 p.m. All are welcome.