To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Prominent author to speak on campus next week

The New York Times likened Katherine Heiny to “Cheever mixed with Ephron,” while Lena Dunham (of the HBO series “Girls”) reported that her “work does something magical.” Heiny has had stories published in the The New Yorker, Seventeen, The Greensboro Review and more, and her recent book of short stories titled “Single, Carefree and Mellow” has become one of this winter’s biggest publishing hits. And one time, she used her last dollar to buy a cinnamon bun, just to face walking 60 blocks to work because then she didn’t have subway fare. Welcome to the life of Katherine Heiny, and she is coming to Brandeis next week.

Heiny will read at Brandeis on Thursday, March 26 at 5:30 p.m in Pearlman Lounge. The Creative Writing Department will sponsor her first fiction reading of this year.

Despite the massive amounts of praise surrounding Heiny’s publication of “Single, Carefree and Mellow,” she remains apprehensive about readings. “I love to give readings, but I’m always haunted by the fear that no one attend and I’ll feel like a loser with no friends,” she said in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot this week. “I gave a reading here in D.C. about a month ago and my own children chose to stay home and play Far Cry on the Xbox. So I’m really grateful when anyone shows up.”

Heiny has had an unusual road to becoming an author. She majored in pre-law at the University of Kansas, but enrolled in primarily creative writing courses. When she didn’t get into law school, she instead attended Columbia for her M.F.A. degree. When she was 25, one of her short stories was published in The New Yorker, an incredible feat for a young writer. Soon afterward, though, Heiny seemed to disappear altogether from the literary world, as she wrote romance novels under a pen name. Later, her family became her primary focus. And now, “Single, Carefree and Mellow” is Heiny’s official literary debut.

“I took the scenic route to being an author, I guess—22 years between publishing my first story and my first collection,” she said, mentioning that bursts of creative energy played a big part in her winding path to success. “It’s relatively easy to find time, but finding time when your brain is firing on all cylinders? That’s something else entirely.”

Heiny’s preferred medium is short stories, often written in the second person using the address “you.” When asked why she prefers to write short stories, Heiny stated, “I can take chances in a short story that I wouldn’t in a novel. A whole novel in the second person or from a child’s point of view would be unsustainable for me, but I can make it work in a short story,” Heiny said.

Second person is a rather unusual point of view choice. Heiny enjoys using it because, as she said, “I think with the second person, you can be both close to and far away from the story’s protagonist. Also, some things are funny just by virtue of being in the second person.”

The stories in Heiny’s collection are often about everyday life, utilizing situational humor. She also writes about relationships and individuals’ illicit lovers. Lena Dunham, who blurbed her, noted that Heiny “gives women’s interior lives the gravity they so richly deserve.”

When asked what she draws her inspiration from, Heiny replied, “Usually from something very small in real life, like a stressful parent-teacher conference or an insult from a hairdresser, and it grows from there.”

Writing about what she is most passionate about has helped Heiny combat writer’s block. She also added, “[I know by now that I] can’t set insane goals for myself, like saying I’m going to write 10 pages a day until my novel is done. Nothing makes me shut down more quickly than doing that.”

Following the reading on Thursday, Heiny will be available to speak with students, but she has also already provided her advice to aspiring writers: “I guess I would say that there are a million ways to be a writer—find the one that works for you. Not everyone lives in a remote farmhouse and gets up at dawn.”

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