Northwestern creative writing professors lauded for groundbreaking work

Amanda Svachula, Reporter

With innovative literary techniques and unique perspectives on common topics, Northwestern creative writing professors Stuart Dybek and Eula Biss astounded the literary world in 2014, receiving many awards for their work.

Dybek published two books of short stories that received praise from both national and local media outlets. The New York Times described him “as not only our most relevant writer, but maybe our best.” His book “Paper Lantern: Love Stories” was named one of the top books of the year by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Reader.

Though both are books of short stories, Dybek’s two works, “Paper Lantern: Love Stories” and “Ecstatic Cahoots” are fundamentally different types of literature.

“Paper Lantern: Love Stories” is written in a more traditional style and is filled with short stories of an average length. The book focuses on the theme of love.

“Ecstatic Cahoots” is written in a more experimental way, with a focus on form rather than just theme.

“Some of the stories are very short, closer to poems,” Dybek said. “When you’re writing something short, in order to give the reader some sense of completeness, (a writer is required) to make up a kind of new technique to writing the story.”

Dybek is known in his field as a writer who has been heavily influenced by Chicago, and the presence of the city comes up in a few of his short stories, not only in the setting but also the urban essence of the writing. Through his writing, Dybek aims to maintain a close relationship with the reader.

“You’re talking about trying to realize something you’ve imagined and make it real for somebody else,” Dybek said.

Biss also achieved success with her 2014 book “On Immunity: An Inoculation.”

The book displays a new way of thinking about vaccines and whether or not they are worth it. Biss began writing the story after her own child was born, and it is written in a way that mixes memoir and hard science, making it very readable.

The work was described in The New York Times as a “spellbinding blend of memoir, science journalism and literary criticism.” It was also selected as one of the top 10 books of 2014 by many major publications including The Times.

The work traces Biss’ thought process as she learns about vaccines and comes to the conclusion that people get them because of a sort of societal need.

NU’s nurturing environment influenced the writers as they crafted their work.

“Northwestern’s deep respect for the importance of the written word that manifests itself in its perfect English program and all the ways in which writing is incorporated on campus has deeply impacted me,” Dybek said.

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