As novelist Courtney Brkic read about the life of a Croatian family, her audience was transported out of Ulrich Hall onto the small Croatian island she described.

During Wednesday night’s Writers Here and Now, Brkic captivated her listeners with vivid imagery and unique perspectives of immigrant family members.  

She read an excerpt from her novel The First Rule of Swimming, a story that follows a family’s immigration from a small fictional island in Croatia to America.

During the short excerpt, she paused to tell the audience the novel recounts the family’s experiences through several generations, beginning from before WWII until almost present day.

Brkic then shifted gears and moved on to read an excerpt of a novel she’s currently working on. It was a little bit lighter than the first excerpt but still ripe with emotion. Brkic read the woes of an immigrant father dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter, as well as American neighbors to whom he cannot relate.

A Croatian-American herself, Brkic said she draws most of her inspiration from her own personal background and experiences.

The second excerpt she read was inspired by a family trip to the West coast, where Brkic and her family had never been before.

It was very different from what they were used to on the East coast, she said. People had understood her father’s accent just fine back in the east, especially considering he’d been in America for years, but out West, people had trouble understanding him.

Brkic said she likes to write with family themes in mind.

“I have two small children, so that also has helped me to reposition my writing and consider other things,” she said.

Brkic was just one of two writers who took the stage. Poet Timothy Donnelly also stepped up to the podium to share his work.

Donnelly began by reading “The New Intelligence,” a poem from his book The Cloud Corporation, which won the 2011 Kingsley Tufts Award.

With visible energy manifested in the form of hand gestures and excited bouncing, paired with a powerful voice, Donnelly captivated the entire audience. He entertained his audience, his readings evoking laughter numerous times.

Iain Davis, a senior English major who’s been to many Writers Here and Now events, said she was especially impressed with Donnelly’s last piece. It was titled “Diet Mountain Dew,” after Donnelly’s favorite beverage.

“The prose was gorgeous, but I think the poetry took the show today,” Davis said.

Donnelly elicited a variety of responses from other listeners. Tania James, a guest lecturer in the English department, said Donnelly made her really thirsty for Mountain Dew.

“I thought it was a great combination of readers. They’re both really powerful and provocative in different ways,” James said. “With Courtney, I just kind of disappeared into her story which happens when someone’s a good reader of prose.”

Donnelly read a total of eight poems on various, eclectic subjects, such as the subway, health scares and, of course, Diet Mountain Dew.

Brkic also liked Donnelly’s work, saying she got “an especial kick” out of one poem about the subway called “Shame.”

“The subway was one of the things that drove me out of New York City,” Brkic explained.

Another poem, titled “Loving the Alien,” which shares the name of a David Bowie song, was inspired by the death of Bowie, Donnelly said.

“For a long time, I always relied upon my imagination to confect scenarios or ideas that would produce the poems for me,” Donnelly said. “Increasingly as I get older, I find that maybe some of the work I did earlier was in part to lead me to write poems that were more in direct conversation with my immediate environment.”

“Whatever happens at this point, ideally, will provoke a poem out of me,” he added.

The next Writers Here and Now is scheduled for March 9 in Ulrich Hall with readings from works byEnglish faculty members Emily Mitchell and Stanley Plumly.

Featured Photo Credit: Memoirist and short-story writer Courtney Angela Brkic reads an excerpt from her novel First Rule of Swimming at Writers Here and Now in Ulrich Theatre on Feb. 10, 2016. Photo courtesy of Block photographer Jack Angelo.

Rosie Kean is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at vrosekean@gmail.com

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