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Local Color: Lynn Levin is Writing for Her Life

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“As a child, I was encouraged to write poems and rhymes. I found it fun. It gave me the greatest pleasure,” Lynn Levin recounted. This early spur has been life-shaping. At last count, the Southampton-based poet and short-story writer has nine books to her name.

“By high school in St. Louis, Mo., where I grew up, it was part of my identity to be a writer—I loved having my poems printed in the high school literary magazine.” A degree in Comparative Literature at Northwestern University, however, diverted her. “It was the 70s. Creative Writing wasn’t what it is now in colleges. My degree work was all about literature and literary criticism. No one encouraged me in creative writing.”

Her first jobs were in publishing, including a stint at Boston’s venerable Little, Brown & Company, one of the first houses to publish Emily Dickinson’s poems. “Publishing led to advertising copywriting. I found I was happiest when I worked as a freelancer. I did it until I knew I just couldn’t write one more direct mail campaign, even though I was good at it.”

All along she wrote poems and has published five books of poems. For more than 20 years she has taught writing at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. “By teaching I learned that students really could benefit from having suggested topics if they want to write poetry.”

“Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets” (co-authored with Valerie Fox, Texture Press, 2nd edition 2023) provides anyone who would like to write a poem with a little hand-holding. Readers are invited to try writing an unanswerable letter, or to riff on a song title, for example. The book also helps the writer shape the poem. “A poem benefits from some kind of form. It’s not prose,” this teacher says. The book includes choices of forms that help structure a poem.

So how did she start writing short stories? “I had to teach a class, and I thought I’d better practice what I preach! Then, all these ideas for stories kept coming to me.” Levin didn’t collect the stories until the pandemic. “It was a fine time to reflect and assemble. It gave me a good project,” she chuckled.

Has advertising influenced her writing the way teaching has? Levin revealed that in her brand-new book of short stories, “House Parties” (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 2023), several stories reflect her working experience. In “Sendings,” a character sends direct mail containing blank letters to “to annoy, alarm, and distress” a neighbor. In “Frieda and her Golem,” she brings the ancient Jewish mythical creature to this century in a plot involving Artificial Intelligence. Her bemused characters are coping with life in the 21st century the best they can. The stories acknowledge the challenges of modern living without becoming cynical.

Levin says her membership in the Arts and Cultural Council of Bucks County has been richly rewarding: “It’s led to new discoveries, and new friends. We workshop each other’s poems. We’re cheerleaders. We attend each other’s readings. It’s like a party!”

Local Color is a column produced by the Arts & Cultural Council of Bucks County. It appears on the first Thursday of each month.


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