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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

James Wood Visits UMass Boston

One professor in the English department described the Annual Shaun O’Connell Lecture as the time when “the English department finds the most famous person it can to come and talk about English-related things.” Well, in that sense, this year did not disappoint. On Thursday, Oct. 11, the University of Massachusetts Boston was visited by James Wood, one of the most prominent figures in contemporary literary criticism.
Held in the Ryan Lounge on the third floor of McCormack Hall, this year’s Shaun O’Connell Lecture had a cool, comfortable atmosphere. The grid of 40 seats facing the podium were surrounded by the cushioned armchairs and sofas. This, combined with the warm lighting, made the lecture feel like it was set up in someone’s large living room, as opposed to a brutalist college campus. By the time the event commenced, about 60 people had made it into the room, waiting for Wood to begin. About 65 percent of the audience were faculty members, with students filling the difference.
Though Wood is known primarily as a literary critic, he had come to UMass Boston to read from his own book. “Upstate” is the second novel by James Wood. This meant, he explained, “that it is, by definition, better than my first novel, and will be worse than my third.” He proceeded to read aloud the first chapter of his book, followed by a section from the middle. It was very well conducted, and the audience reaction was extremely positive.
Before he had begun his reading, Wood had noted how, though he is perhaps an older man, he is a fairly young writer—a fact which he hoped would put him in a unique position to help in advising the budding novelists in the audience. He told the audience how he remembered better than most speakers at events like this just how hard it can be to crank out your first novel.
This sentiment really came to fruition during the Q&A portion of the event where most faculty members asked a mixture of critical and personal questions such as, “Who are some of the great literary critics of the past you recommend to young students?” and “What do you read for leisure?,” while the students were much more focused on hard-hitting questions about the act of writing. One asked, “When should I write a long description or a short one?” Another, “Should I plot out the story before or let it come naturally?” Finally, “How can I write dialogue that is true to the characters, and moves the story forward?”
After the reading was done, a table was set up to be able to purchase Wood’s book. Wood was available to sign his new book and talk to anyone who went up. Whether it was a student or a faculty member, Wood was happy to talk.