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Writers at Work series hosts Loyola professors for reading and Q&A


On Oct. 29, Dr. Jean Lee Cole and Professor Nguyen Khoi Nguyen presented their crafts as part of the Writers at Work series. This initiative, relatively new to Loyola, gives students the opportunity to meet writers, ask questions, and engage in conversations regarding the writing process. Cole, an English professor, and Nguyen, a digital media lecturer, provided insight on their differing focuses and highlighted their similarities in the process. 

Dr. Cole, author of “The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity” (2002) and “How the Other Half Laughs: The Comic Sensibility in American Culture, 1895-1920” (forthcoming, 2020) practices what she refers to as “literary recovery.” Combined with her interest in the experiences of women, people of color, and immigrants, among other marginalized groups, Cole attempts to make sense of the history of the underrepresented. By piecing together magazine and newspaper pages, manuscripts, and microfilm, Cole reintroduces historical stories not often heard by modern audiences. Additionally, Cole explained the importance of including introductions and footnotes in these pieces to help translate them into a more contemporary language. 

“It’s amazing to me how quickly language and literature changes— how quickly a piece of literature can become incomprehensible,” said Cole. 

Cole’s upcoming book takes a deeper look into the experiences of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, reaching beyond the accepted idea that immigrant life was entirely brutal during this time period. Through studying the comic strips created in these years, Cole recognized that although many of the jokes were made at the expense of immigrants, they also helped to build community and a stronger sense of identity within this population. 

“Comic culture indulged in the irrational and grotesque to create new forms of representation,” said Cole. “They demonstrate that immigrant and working-class life was not solely concerned with sorrow, oppression, and poverty. It was capable of imagination, irreverence, and wit.” 

Nguyen, former senior video producer and editor at Science Magazine, and the recipient of three American Graphic Design Awards, presented the creative process behind his multimedia graphic novel, “The Gulf.”  This graphic novel, loosely based on Nguyen’s family, references life on the coast of Florida in addition to the other meaning of the word “gulf:” a divide or gap. In Nguyen’s case, this refers to a divide between identities, between childhood and adulthood, and between generations. Nguyen plans to produce ten chapters of “The Gulf” for iBook and as a print comic

Nguyen’s creative process to produce his drawings, animations, and music begins with research. He finds inspiration in old pictures and periodicals, and often looks to the comic strips of those he admires for ideas. Once he is settled with preliminary ideas and sketches, Nguyen described his editing process as an ongoing project. He also highlighted the importance of sharing his work with others to gain a different perspective before moving forward into the final stages of a creative piece. 

“I’m not precious about those original sketches,” said Nguyen. “For me, the final product, that satisfaction of finishing something is really fleeting, so I really make an effort, and I think I’ve gotten better at appreciating every single step of the process.”

In the Q&A portion of the presentation, Cole also mentioned the importance of the editing process within her field, noting that she has “grown to have real faith in the drafting and editing process.” She explained that even if the preliminary idea isn’t incredibly strong, it’s important to use it as a starting position for further development. 

“I just know, when I write anything, that half of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor,” said Cole. “What’s really satisfying, though, is seeing it get better and tighter.”

Nguyen shared similar sentiments with regard to his sketching and animations, noting the uptake in the amount of time he has been spending on the editing process. 

“The editing seems to be taking up more and more [time] now that it’s easier to edit using technology,” said Nguyen. While both professors heavily emphasized the importance of editing, Nguyen questions whether or not this increase is positive. While technology expands his options as a creator, it also makes Nguyen “obsessive” over each aspect of his work. Regardless, while Cole and Nguyen belong to different fields of study, there is common ground between their processes as writers and creatives, especially in the editing phases of their work. 

Pre-order Dr. Jean Lee Cole’s book here. 

Check out “The Gulf” and other merchandise by Nguyen Khoi Nguyen here, and the iBook version of “The Gulf” here.

More information regarding upcoming speakers for the Writers at Work series can be found at its Loyola webpage. 

Featured Image: Nguyen Khoi Nguyen (pictured left) and Jean Lee Cole (right).

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Writers at Work series hosts Loyola professors for reading and Q&A