Spotlight on Alumni Darren Demaree, Daisy Levy, and Chris Michel

Three Miami alumni will be giving a talk this coming Tuesday English Department Ambassador Deanna Krokos had some questions for the three former Redhawks.

  1. What would you tell your undergrad self about the literary world that you know now?

Christopher- Oh I don’t know that my undergrad self would have listened to me anyway. He was pretty headstrong in his ideas about the literary world. I think I’d just leave him to figure it

out on his own terms–which is what I’m doing.

Darren– I would tell my undergrad self that it’s okay to read constantly, write constantly, and ignore anyone that fusses with the tether you hold on your artistic pursuit.

Daisy– I would say “Hey. You have time to read stuff. Slow down a little bit, and pay closer attention. Don’t worry about what other people think about what you’re reading.”

 

  1. What are the top two influences on your work (literary or nonliterary), and how have they manifested in your writing?

Christopher- Two is such a stingy number! I’d rather list twenty or none at all. Some of the biggest influences–David Foster Wallace, and George Saunders, have ultimately been dangerous for me, and I’ve had to work to shake them off so I don’t sound like bad imitations (which, in my worst moments, I still do). Some of my favorite influences, like the essayist Tom Bissell aren’t particularly famous–they’re like secret friends. But a lot of them—maybe the most influential of them—are the ones I met at a really early age. So Robert Frost is still one of the most serious poets in my life, and the one I’m always judging poems against. And Roald Dahl’s stories are so fundamental they’re almost beyond conscious inspection. But tomorrow I’d pick a different handful of writers to name.

Darren- Robert Creeley and Aase Berg would be the two poets I appreciate the most.  One is old, one is newer, but both of them challenge me in very important ways.

Daisy- Probably mid-20th c. American Modern Dance and um, if I can only pick one more, I’d say Toni Morrison. The Dance part is connected to what I said above about my connection to thinking about language and movement, but also, many of the choreographers, dancers, and performers of that era were really powerful thinkers too – about what art is, or can be, and why bother with it as a social phenomenon, as well as personally and individually expressive. Morrison? Well, I started reading her novels when I was in college in the late 80s, and her intensity of language just pulled me in. I also got to hear her speak once at that same time, and I was really impressed with the quietness of her voice at the same time that she was unquestionably fierce.

 

  1. What’s your process like and why does it work for you?

Darren– I write constantly.  Writing at much as I do gives me elbow room to experiment, to fail, to write differently than I have in the past about different topics.  It gives me the room to play with language guilt-free.  I write poetry all of the time because I enjoy the challenges that accompany the pursuit of the confluence of ideas, music, and language.  This is a challenge I believe to be unique to poetry.

Christopher- Lately, I’ve been writing articles and essays while at work, and I generally have to squeeze the writing in between more pressing activities. In that way, actually, it’s not that much different than when I was in college. Generally I do the necessary research, and try to have some brief, raw material on the topic in front of me, and then I start writing at what feels like the most interesting place, and keep writing until the idea seems to be worked out. If I need to go back and write an introduction, I’ll do that, but I’ll keep it as short as possible. Then I edit, edit, edit.

I’m always thinking about what’s going to make and keep a reader interested, and I try to gauge that by what keeps me interested.

Daisy- Messy. It involves a lot of doing of things that don’t necessarily look like writing. Sitting quietly, running, walking around my home, knitting, reading, cooking. Talking to other people. A lot of that, both casually, but also interviews, so as much talking as I might be doing, I spend a lot of time listening too. Journaling. Getting frustrated, and then writing as a series of questions. And at some point, I have to push myself to stop asking questions, and try answering them. For a long time I thought this didn’t count as a process, until I realized that writing and language is intimately connected to movement and then I felt a lot better about how I get ideas into written/shareable form.

 

  1. What should we be reading now?

Christopher- You should be reading something surprising and delightful, that’s such fun it’s hard to put down. Especially if it’s literature, books are better at enchanting than edifying. But you want names! If it’s fiction, I’ve liked David Mitchell for a while now, but go back and read Cloud Atlas before his new one, Bone Clocks. If it’s poetry, I think more people should read Jack Gilbert — A Brief for the Defense, to start. If you’re into comics, I’d say Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga is just amazing. It’s really good. If you like magazines and running, I’ll recommend Runner’s World

Darren– Aase Berg, Maggie Smith, Ross Gay, Terrence Hayes, and Claudia Rankine.

Daisy- Things that set you on fire. Things that make you want to do something. Not necessarily “DO” like in the socially minded, civic consciousness way, though that’s not a bad thing either. But read things that make you wanna MOVE.

 

  1. Do you mismatch your socks? Why or why not?

Christopher- Not often anymore–it gets too confusing to keep track of them all. But I let my 5-year-old dress herself, and she mismatches socks all the time, on purpose. She’s a regular Punky Brewster, that one.

Darren- I rarely wear socks at all.  Only if I’m headed to work do I wear socks.  They normally match.

Daisy- I do sometimes mismatch my socks. Though I guess the real question is “what is ‘mismatched’?” Right? I mean, if they don’t look the same, but you intended to put them on at the same time, isn’t that a match? IDK. Similarity is generally overrated. But I’m a rhetorician. I’m more into INTENTION and PURPOSE, when it comes down to it.

 

Come to their Reception in the Bachelor Reading Room 9/26 at 7 pm, and come back to the MU Bookstore Tuesday 9/27 for their talk at 7:30!