When introducing Claire Beams at her reading on Monday, April 10th, Professor Glenn Taylor described her book, We Show What We Have Learned, as timely and timeless. That is exactly how her reading and subsequent Q&A session felt that evening.
Beams read the title story of her debut collection, which was a finalist for the 2017 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Fiction and the winner of the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library. She described the collection as one about transformation, about changing others and yourself.
The story Beams read centered around a teacher who literally begins to fall apart in front of her students. A high school English teacher for six years, Beams later reflected on the ways in which her time in the classroom has impacted her writing. She noted that her students are often surprised when they read her work to see a different side of the teacher they know.
During the Q&A, Beams answered thoughtfully about questions related to writing process. The title story of her collection came from the space between dreaming and being awake, she said. She believes writing often comes from an unconscious part of the brain. It took her time to find her voice and to find the kinds of stories she enjoys writing, and the fun she had penning the collection was certainly reflected in the stories themselves as well as the reactions of the audience during the reading.
Beams concluded by emphasizing the freedom with which one should approach writing. She reminded the audience of the possibilities one encounters when writing: “When you start a story it can be anything.”
Claire Beams’ fiction appears in One Story, n+1, Ecotone, The Common, The Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She currently blogs for Ploughshares and teaches creative writing at Saint Vincent College and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.