Critically Acclaimed Author Ling Ma Visits Roosevelt University

By Jordan Geriane

“Severance” is Ma’s debut novel and was awarded the Kirkus Prize of 2018
Photo courtesy of The Paris Review.

The MFA Creative Writing Program, along with the Oyez Review and the Department of Humanities, hosted what was the first of the spring semester reading series. On Monday, Feb. 18 in the Sullivan Room, University of Chicago writing professor and author Ling Ma was featured as the initial guest of the series.

At this small and intimate affair, with MFA creative writing students and professors listening keenly in the audience, Ma led the event by reading various excerpts from her critically praised debut novel, “Severance.”

“Severance” is essentially an unconventional office novel that turns into an apocalyptic satire following the life of an average young woman working in the Bible publishing industry who is slowly coming to terms with the deteriorating environment around her.

The novel is a memo to everyday life: It highlights the monotony humanity can find itself under and how human beings will slowly find themselves in an everyday routine until they wither away and die.

“I feel like my relationship with apocalyptic fiction and apocalyptic narratives mostly came from the movies or books – mostly from ‘The Walking Dead’ actually,” Ma said.

Ma then explained that she had watched an episode of the show the night before she began writing the book, which sparked some inspiration for her writing. “I wrote this at the end of a job, and so leaving the job I thought, “Oh, this is freedom.”

The freedom Ma described was the freedom to really begin writing her book. The process was like a, “mix of puzzle pieces jumbled all over the place and slowly putting it together.” She described the process as being a long one because it first started out as a short story.

“I pretended it was a short story almost the whole way through, I was really scared of writing a novel having never done it before. I just figured I could work on one scene and jump to another because it made sense at the time,” Ma said.

Ma had meant for it to primarily be an office narrative about the monotony of human life but ended up discovering the main character’s voice the more she kept writing and continued further in the story.

“Not labeling things and being in denial is a good way to write a novel,” Ma said.

She basically described her writing procedure as a basis of interest and out of order. If she is interested, she will write it.

Chair of the humanities department and a professor of the english department Regina Buccola stated that the value of bringing in Ling Ma and all of the writers who come in their Reading Series allows students “to hear a contemporary writer discuss in depth how they approach their craft.”

“I found her discussion of how she adapted the formula of the ‘zombie, post-apocalyptic’ narrative by incorporating elements derived from her research and travel experiences.”

Buccola continued by attesting that Ma’s “formula” widens the parameters of the genre and the people it represents.

The next author to visit Roosevelt for this semester’s reading series is Rick Yancey, a graduate of the MFA writing program and author of the “5th Wave” series.

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