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Literary Wonders

From Paris to Patagonia, Pinsky Fellows search for inspiration

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Dan Stone (GRS’09) (from top), Maia Rauschenberg (GRS’09), Adam Eaglin (GRS’09), Nathan Hogan (GRS’09), and Masha Obolensky (GRS’09) have received the inaugural Robert Pinsky Global Fellowships in Creative Writing, established by Robert J. Hildreth, vice chair of the BU Board of Overseers.

The roster of renowned writers who’ve sought an artistic muse in Rome is long: Henry James and Mark Twain found inspiration in Italy’s capital, while James Joyce finished Dubliners and started Ulysses. This summer, Dan Stone is literally following in their footsteps, tracing their paths as part of an independent study while working on a novel he hopes will add his own name to the illustrious list.

“I think this is an important thing to consider, as a writer: sometimes, when you’re removed from home and its comforts, you can see things in a different way,” he says.

Stone (GRS’09), a graduate of Boston University’s Creative Writing Program, isn’t the only BU-based writer heading into the world for an expatriate experience this year; he and four other recent alumni are traveling as recipients of the inaugural Robert Pinsky Global Fellowships in Creative Writing. The annual fellowships, established this year through a $2 million donation from Robert J. Hildreth, vice chair of the BU Board of Overseers, provide funds for up to four months of international study. They are named in honor of poet, translator, and critic Pinsky, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English, who was U.S. poet laureate from 1997 to 2000.

Two poets, two fiction writers, and a playwright received the fellowships; their plans and destinations vary as much as their genres. Adam Eaglin (GRS’09) is in Barcelona translating the poetry of José Valente and studying the visual art that influenced his work. Masha Obolensky (GRS’09) will spend six weeks in France researching the French feminist author Colette. Nathan Hogan (GRS’09) is trekking across Greenland for research on a historical novel about an Arctic explorer. And Maia Rauschenberg (GRS’09) will explore the wilderness of Patagonia this fall, including a sail through the Straits of Magellan and around Cape Horn.

“My main goal for this trip is to be inspired,” says Rauschenberg, “to be awed by beauty, to feel a sense of space in the wilderness, and to push myself physically and emotionally to really interact with the land and sea.”

Hildreth’s donation will also establish an annual International Visiting Professorship in Creative Writing, named for the program’s director and professor of creative writing, Leslie Epstein. Hildreth, founder and president of an international banking firm as well as a poet, says that both the travel fellowships and the professorship are intended to elevate the Creative Writing Program away from what he calls the trend towards “parochialism.”

“The chance to work and teach and just experience foreign cultures should provide not only material recipients would not get otherwise, but also expose them to lifestyles that challenge their thinking,” says Hildreth. “If they go into a foreign culture, they will have an experience with profound dislocation and loneliness, and they’re going to have to rise to the challenge. That can have a very interesting effect on writing.”

The fellows will be blogging about their experiences throughout the summer at blogs.bu.edu/world. Each is looking forward to being immersed in another culture, enjoying an invaluable advantage: having time and money to write.

“There’s such a history of writers going to other countries, with that experience impacting their world outlook,” says Eaglin. “It’s such a great opportunity for a young writer — it teaches you to reevaluate your sense of self.”

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

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