Single Voice Reading Series kicks off with writer studied at Allegheny

Professor of English Matthew Ferrence chose creative nonfiction writer Brenda Miller as his first pick for the opening speaker of this year’s Single Voice Reading Series.

But his selection goes beyond the podium: Miller’s work was a part of the curricula for two of his classes.

“I’m always struck when reading her work,” Ferrence said.

After reading her essays while he was in graduate school, he was immediately taken with them.

Miller’s essays intertwine simple and complex topics into cohesive stories about life.

“It’s the complexity…she can deal with very heavy issues, and she mixes seemingly unrelated aspects of her life together with aspects that come from outside of her life to create a tremendous essay,” said Ferrence.

Miller gave advice about her style of writing to the aspiring writers in the audience.

“The beginnings and the endings of braided essays of any kind of piece, really, especially lyric pieces,  are so important because the very first words really have to set the reader on the path that they’re going to go on,” Miller said. “You have to give them some kind of grounding. And the last section needs to really ring that bell and bring all the things we’ve discovered along that path together.”

During her reading, she shared her essay “Our Daily Toast,” which is included in her most recent collection of essays,

Listening Against the Stone . The piece entirely revolved around toast.

“Basically once I start seeing what the theme is, then it becomes just fun, almost like a sculpture, that you’re creating,” Miller said of her work.

Emily Christ, ’15, heard Miller’s work for the first time at the reading.

“I like that she was able to take something simple and mundane and turn it into a story,” Christ said.

The simple aspects of Miller’s work are equally as attractive to Ferrence.

“The other thing I like about her that was on display in the reading is, she can write about very simple things – like toast, like her dogs – and she can give them a little more power than you would ever think they could have,” said Ferrence.