Story Time with Dan Chaon Delights a Full Audience

Madeline Raynor

“We’re glad we had such a big turnout, but we’re not surprised.”

These were the opening remarks of Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Lynn Powell as she welcomed her colleague Dan Chaon to the stage for his reading this past Sunday night. She was no doubt referring to both the popularity of the Creative Writing major at Oberlin and the packed audience at Slow Train, which teemed with students taking a study break and the familiar faces of Creative Writing students and faculty. Even Marvin Krislov attended, watching from a coveted seat at the counter. Dan Chaon, Delaney Associate Professor of Creative Writing and published author, was a finalist for the National Book Award for his short story collection Among the Missing, and his book You Remind Me of Me has received acclaim from The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly and more. Chaon is currently developing a screenplay based on his book Await Your Reply.

 After Powell’s impressive introduction, Chaon stepped on stage wearing a smart plaid blazer, his hair glinting in the lights. He began to read a story called “Take This, Brother, May It Serve You Well,” from his newest short story collection, Stay Awake. As he spoke, his expressive and humorous delivery brought the frank narration of his story to life. The story opens with a drunken man named Dave Deagle wandering around Portland, OR, reflecting on how he came to be lost, unhappy and overweight. Despite the gloomy premise, Chaon’s story was sprinkled with dry wit and amusingly idiosyncratic characters. One particularly vivid image in his prose occurs when Deagle, recalling the specifics of his downward spiral, remembers how he “broke down while reading The Runaway Bunny to his children at bedtime, tears rolling down his face while the kids sat frightened in their pajamas.” Deagle came across as a profoundly sincere, relatable character, and his plight is consistent with the dark realism of Chaon’s writing. Chaon settled into a nice groove in his performance, perfectly embodying the voice of his own character for both the poignant and amusing moments. Throughout the reading, his eyes regularly flitted up to the audience, taking in their rapt attention and incorporating their frequent chuckles into the rhythm of his performance. The imaginative narrative of “Take This, Brother, May It Serve You Well” illustrates Chaon’s ability to weave stories that are strange and uniquely his own, while still being familiar and relatable to readers, even if they never could have imagined the stories laid out in Chaon’s work.

Chaon read for just over 45 minutes and ended his story to enthusiastic applause from Oberlin students and faculty. As the audience trickled out of Slow Train, a few creative writing–minded students engaged in discussion about Chaon’s work. Students seemed to be in resounding agreement that the highlight of the reading was the voice of Chaon’s writing. Erik Larson ’15, a student in Lynn Powell’s Poetry/Prose workshop, enthusiastically praised Chaon’s “charming and witty” tone. College first-year and prospective Creative Writing and Theater major B.J. Tindal ‘16 was also taken by Chaon’s style, animatedly remarking: “Moreso than anything, I enjoyed the voice of his writing.” B.J. added that he liked how the use of third-person narration was still very in touch with the main character. “It kind of felt like Deagle was third-person narrating his own life,” he commented.

For those who are intrigued and want to read Chaon’s work, Stay Awake has just been released in paperback this past Tuesday, Oct. 2 and the hardcover edition already adorns the windows of Ben Franklin and the College Bookstore.