Camille Paglia Speaks at
The Writing Center
Camille Paglia has an opinion and she’s not afraid to share it. She is one of the more controversial writers of our time, according to Lewis Burke Frumkes, director of the Writing Center at Marymount Manhattan College, who introduced her. Paglia, is a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and has been voted one of the world’s top twenty intellectual figures. Camille Paglia has also authored several books, including Sexual Personae, Sex, Art, and American Culture, and the recent bestseller, Break, Blow, Burn. Paglia spoke about her experiences as a writer recently at Marymount Manhattan College as a part of the Writing Center’s Best-Selling Authors lecture series.
Paglia made it clear from the beginning of her lecture that she was present to speak about her life as a writer and not as the controversial firebrand as she is sometimes perceived. She began her talk by discussing how she formed her sense of self as a writer. Born into an Italian-American family in Endicott, New York, Paglia developed an appreciation for language at a young age. She was influenced by the rapid and lively conversational style of her Italian relatives. She said, “Language is a matter of the moment—almost choreography.” She found herself drawn to the colorful language of billboards, newspaper headlines, and advertisements, which would go on to influence her later writing.
As she continued with her talk, Paglia discussed how she developed as a writer. She was highly influenced by the colorful language of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, as well as The Epigrams of Oscar Wilde. She said she found herself fascinated by Wilde’s ability to create sharp, memorable one-liners. Soon her ambition as a writer was to concoct a one-liner “so strong and penetrating that it will be memorable.” The influence of advertising continued over from her childhood as well. Paglia spoke about her love for “high-impact, exclamatory sounds,” and her attempts at creating contrast in her writing by mixing slang with higher-level commentary. First-wave feminism also had a large influence on her work. She recalled when she was given a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, and how much it influenced her.
Paglia also discussed her latest book, Break, Blow, Burn, an anthology of what she considers to be forty-three of the world’s greatest poems. Paglia told her audience that Break, Blow, Burn is meant to make poetry accessible to the every day person. It took Paglia several years to compile and narrow down her list of poems to be included in the book. She discussed her criteria, saying, “Poetry that lasts is poetry that understands what it is. It uses words to get beyond words. It is a point of contact between the mind and nature.”
Paglia concluded her lecture by taking questions from the audience. There were many questions about her writing process, which she graciously answered. She had many words of advice for aspiring writers in the audience. Paglia first discussed the importance of understanding language. She expressed distress over reliance on spell-check rather than the use of dictionaries to check the spelling of words. Paglia stressed the use of dictionaries to check the spelling of words as well as studying the etymology and meanings of words. She stated that word study is the basis of much of her work. Her simplest piece of advice for the audience about her writing process was, “First I write sentences, then I write paragraphs.” Makes sense to us!#