End Notes

By Catherine Zobal Dent
Spring Summer 2024 Issue

Catherine Zobal Dent The Structure of the Shared Universe

My daughter was an infant when I arrived at Susquehanna University. This May, she turned 15. Her older brother, then a toddler, is now preparing to leave for college. In our early years of raising children, my partner, Professor Silas Dent Zobal, and I found a supportive environment in the Writers Institute — encouraged by colleagues, we published books and mentored young writers, some of whom would go on to publish their own books and teach students. The universe, while unknowable, is full of repetitions and parallel structures.

My first office in the Department of English & Creative Writing was in a former bicycle storage closet in Hassinger Hall. Silas and I spent one year in this windowless space, home away from home! When the Writers Institute relocated, we experienced growth and renewal. In our two-story brick structure on University Avenue, there is room for workshops, conferences, meetings, celebrations. And room for us to share a central office, and now, a corner of the building.

All the books in our office, and in the Writers Institute, are available for loan. I’ll see something in a student’s story and recommend a book for a different angle or technique. When I am reminded of former students’ stories published in RiverCraft or another literary magazine, I hunt down copies and give those away. As the new director, I’m studying the past while working toward renewal. I’m emulating my predecessors: poet and editor Karla Kelsey; memoirist and essayist Glen Retief; prolific author and esteemed mentor Gary Fincke.

The Writers Institute inherits a tradition of innovation and possibility. We’ll continue preparing writers through what we’ve always done. Small workshops and one-on-one instruction remain central, with a curriculum featuring a sequence of classes in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Meanwhile, we’re looking at new collaborations with our department’s editing & publishing program, including the rebirth of SU Press; leaning into interdisciplinary affiliations with theatre, studio arts, and music; exploring connections with the Sigmund Weis School of Business, Global Opportunities Program, Center for Diversity & Inclusion, the Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures.

One recent innovation is a creative writing course for students outside the creative writing major. Students write fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. I teach books by visiting authors and Writers Institute faculty. I’ve connected with curious biology, business, and political science scholars. Worked with tennis, basketball, track, and soccer student-athletes. One of my proudest moments came when Cameron Noble ’23, a communications major and defensive lineman whose mom couldn’t make it to his game on Senior Day, invited me to stand by his side. Cam’s favorite book is Silas’s The People of the Broken Neck.

The universe is full of echoes, quotations, and reprises. Some students follow in our footsteps — writing and teaching — and we feel equally connected to students working in other fields. Crafting text for nonprofits and corporations. Working for libraries, theaters, parks, museums. Writing for television, music, or film. Living nearby in central Pennsylvania, or eight states away, or abroad.

I borrowed my title from Cody-Rose Clevidence, an author who visited this spring as part of our Seavey Visiting Writers Series. It felt electric to be in this poet’s presence, and electric to read their text, “This Household of Earthly Nature; An Essay.” Clevidence riffs on the Indigo Girls and Walt Whitman and countless scientists to tell us about time and music and power and domesticity and technology and prayer. The reading made me grateful for the Writers Institute, how it houses creators and dreamers. How it’s a place for inspiration and for taking risks. How, at least for a brief period in our ever-expanding universe, we find space to share.

Associate Professor of English & Creative Writing Catherine Zobal Dent is the director of the Writers Institute and former director of the Summer Writers Workshop. A fiction writer and translator of French to English, she is currently working on a new collection of short stories. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Duke University and both her master’s and doctoral degrees in English Language and Literature from Binghamton University, New York, and joined Susquehanna’s faculty in 2009.

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