Alex Lemon '00 reads, reflects on Mac's influence on his writing

By Jonathan McJunkin

Striking images and pointed phrases filled Weyerhaeuser Chapel the evening of Oct. 25 as best selling author and Macalester alum Alex Lemon ’00 read to students and faculty.Lemon read from his bestselling memoir ‘Happy’ and excerpts from his collections of poetry and current projects, also taking questions about his personal experience and the craft of writing. Earlier in the day, he had lunch with a small group of students in Old Main to informally discuss writing and the challenges of writing professionally.

These events were a highlight of Lemon’s week-long visit to Macalester, which included one-on-one meetings with writing students to discuss their work, and workshop sessions with writing courses, including the Creative Writing first year course.

“He’s amazingly approachable,” Wendy Gorman ’14 said of Lemon’s workshop session with her class. “It was a pretty great experience to get to work with him.”

Lemon was also impressed by these sessions.

“I think Macalester is great as a writing environment,” he said. “I’ve talked a lot about [Wang] Ping in these talks, and the school is full of inspiring teachers. There’s been so much amazing work in those one-on-one sessions.”

Lemon’s tenure at Macalester influenced his decision to become a writer. Professor Ping’s classes and advice led him to pursue a creative writing MFA.

In addition to discussing his experience at Macalester, Lemon shared advice and observations about the craft of writing at both the reading and the luncheon. He focused both on the craft of writing and on the daily realities of a career in writing.

On the subject of writing a memoir, Lemon advised young writers to “make a contract with the page,” he said. “The emotional truth of the scene is what’s important.”

Prose and poetry are two sides of the same coin, Lemon observed when asked which he preferred. “Poetry for me is the emotional impact of a moment,” while noting that “prose attempts the same thing, but instead of a flash or a photograph it’s more of a 3D rendering of more of the issues.”

“Writers should read like cannibals-always absorbing ideas and images into their own writing,” Lemon remarked on how writers can use literature to improve their craft.

In response to Mac students’ quest for confidence in their work, Lemon reassured a “little self doubt is good, it’s a propulsive thing, it creates urgency.”

He urged that young writers don’t have to go at the daunting task of creative work alone. “I rely on other people-my friends mostly,” Lemon said. “Writerly (sic) friendships are a special thing and they can last for many years. This is a part of the reason that workshopping is so important.”

Lemon stressed the importance of not taking criticism personally, and not being afraid to give constructive critiques. “As a beginning writer,” he said, “rely on as many people as possible. It’s a good way to learn critical distancing from your work.”

The lunch ended on a humorous note. In response to whether he forbid his parents from reading his writing, Professor Ping interjected that she wrote in English, to prevent her family from reading her work. Lemon quickly added “same way I write all my S&M poems in Chinese so my parents don’t read them.