Sarah Manguso Speaks

On March 22, renowned writer Sarah Manguso paid Foster Auditorium a visit, treating students and community members to a free reading of two of her works: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary and 300 Arguments. Manguso came to Penn State thanks to the Steven Fisher Writer-in-Residence program. Fisher himself attended the reading, joined by his daughter.

The evening began with excerpts of Ongoingness. Before reading, Manguso disclosed her motivation to write it, saying, “my daily dairy had become an obsessive habit…so I decided I wanted to write a book on graphomania, or compulsive writing.”

This initial plan changed, however, after the birth of her son made her instead write about how she stopped compulsive writing. Manguso read selected sections from Ongoingness in her full, rich voice oozing with wisdom. She later confessed that she had sung in a professional church choir for 5 years, an unsurprising fact given that she sounds like the narrator of a nature documentary.

Regarding life since giving birth, Manguso writes, “I am no longer a thing living in the world. I am the world.” After the reading, she revealed that she still keeps a diary, but no longer feels a pathological need to write it in daily.

Next, Manguso moved on to 300 Arguments, her most recent work published this February. This book came about while she was working on another book and noticed that she kept writing thoughts and anecdotes in less than three sentences. After observing this pattern, she considered trying to have them published together in a magazine. She ultimately decided to publish them as their own work, much to critics’ delight and praise.

Before reading, she made a point of saying, “this was a procrastination habit and I don’t know where it came from…just know that this is an artifact of failure from trying to write another book.”

Manguso then read 10 minutes worth of the book, which included the well received line, “the trouble with comparing yourself to others is that there are too many others.”

After reading from the two books, Manguso answered audience questions about everything from her religious beliefs to writing process. For students left wanting more, both Ongoingness: The End of a Diary and 300 Arguments can be purchased at Webster’s Cafe downtown.