MU graduate returns to Columbia to discuss debut novel, inspiration

Joanna Luloff speaks on her inspirations, her past and her future.

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Joanna Luloff, author and MU alum, spoke with Alexandra Socarides, MU English department chair, about her debut novel “Remind Me Again What Happened” at Skylark Bookshop on Oct. 25. The event was free and open to the public. To start the evening, store owner Alex George gave a short introduction.

“Inviting Jo was one of the first things that came to mind when we opened the store,” George said. “We’ve been planning this talk for about two months.”

He then introduced the two speakers, who were both seated in the raised display area in front of the store’s windows. This provided a good stage for those inside to see the reading, but also allowed people walking outside to see the event.

To start the event, Luloff gave a reading from her novel. In the selected passage, the main character, Clare, falls to the floor and notices, in intimate detail, her surroundings. She eventually gains new insight into how her friends really feel about her.

The crowd seemed engaged in the reading as they applauded enthusiastically. Socarides, an old colleague and friend of the author, then began interviewing Luloff.

“[Luloff] and I have known each other for 30 years,” Socarides said. “We met at Camp Walt Whitman in New Hampshire in 1988. I love her compassion for people in great pain and [her] attention to the beauty of language.”

When asked about her inspiration, Luloff had many. “My inspirations were [the works of] W.G. Sebald and Alek Hemon’s ‘The Lazarus Project,’” Luloff said. “Also this one conversation I had with my mom… where she would talk about photographs with a clarity that she didn’t have for recent events.”

This focus on photography comes up with the many photographs that are incorporated into the novel. Many of them were taken from Luloff’s own grandparents, while a few were found in thrift stores and a few she took herself.

The relation between “Remind me What Actually Happened” and Columbia is detailed. The novel started as a draft of Luloff’s dissertation that she wrote while in MU’s Graduate English Program. For Luloff, the constraints placed upon her by that program actually helped her work efficiently.

“The fact that while you’re a Ph.D. student here you have to teach, meant that whenever I found time, I learned to grab it,” Luloff said. “I was surrounded by writers...and I was always in conversation with people who were doing amazing things.”

At the end of the event, the floor was opened up for a Q&A session, but most audience members only offered their gratitude toward Luloff or asked for clarification on what she had said in the interview. The event ended and a few people went up to get autographs, a few went to purchase the book and many stood around chatting about the event.

“It was interesting,” sophomore Kelly Schoessling said. “I didn’t know anything about this beforehand, but it’s always cool to see someone who’s gone through the program.”

That mood was shared by most of the audience, who enjoyed seeing a local author succeed professionally and come back to her roots.

Skylark Bookshop will be hosting more authors, including Meena Nayak on Nov. 2 and Donald Quist on Nov. 8.

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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