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ISSUE 120 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/23/2007

Rapp shares new memoir

By Anne Torkelson
Arts Editor

Friday, February 23, 2007

Born with a congenital bone-and-tissue disorder which caused her left leg to be underdeveloped, Emily Rapp ’96 draws upon her experiences as a child growing up with a prosthetic leg, her college years at St. Olaf, studies abroad in Dublin and time spent in Korea as a Fulbright scholar in her first book, “Poster Child.” Rapp read from her recently-published memoir, whose title comes from her stint as an actual poster child for the Wyoming March of Dimes, in Viking Theater Feb. 12.

While attending St. Olaf, Rapp was a student in The Great Conversation program and won the Junia Prize for best religion distinction project for her essay on the theology of disability. She graduated with majors in Religion and Women’s Studies, went to Korea on a Fulbright Scholarship and received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow in Fiction and Poetry. She received her Master of Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School. She now teaches creative fiction and nonfiction in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University - Southern California.

Though Rapp wasn’t always content at St. Olaf and seriously considered transferring to a big-city school, she remains close with her college friends and appreciates her college education. “My life wouldn’t be the same without Great Con, without what I learned here [at St. Olaf],” she said. “[Great Con] is a great foundation. I’m really grateful for that education I had; it’s made me a better writer.”

Rapp had thought she would become a religion professor, but an essay she wrote in graduate school “bloomed into something larger” – “Poster Child” – and her writing career began. She spent seven months at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., where she worked full time – which she defines as four to five hours a day – on her memoir. She said that finding an agent for the book took a while, but once she did, she had a “fantastic” publishing experience, thanks largely to her editor. “[Publishing] is a bad business,” she said, “but whatever, I don’t have any horror stories.”

Rapp was recently one of six recipients of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Women Writers, and she is using the award to help fund research for her upcoming novels, tentatively titled “The Second City” and “The Beekeeper’s Year.” The former concerns issues of Bloody Sunday and addresses the question of war’s effect on children, while the latter revolves around a family healing from an incident of child abuse. “The Beekeeper’s Year” asks questions about the limit of forgiveness, an idea Rapp came across in a first-year Holocaust history course at St. Olaf that inspired her to become a religion major and later to start the novel. Rapp said, “I like to write child narrators a lot [both in-progress books are narrated by children]. I think there’s not enough of them in serious literature.”

Rapp, who used to write out Great Con papers longhand sometimes two or even three times, calls herself an impatient writer. To organize her writing she uses a new Word document for each scene and every once in awhile combines all the documents into one. “I like to just work in small scenes. That really works for me,” she said.

Rapp is realistic about writing as a career: “You have to sit down, you have to do it, you have to write for four hours and then take a break,” she said. “I’m not like sitting there in a shaft of beautiful light with a muse over my shoulder. […] I might write 50 pages a day, and two are usable.”

Yet writing is not all serious business. Describing her creative environment, Rapp notes her writing desk, that she likes to light candles and the presence of her metallic – and magic – hair scrunchie. “I like to touch it,” she said. “Sometimes I sniff it.”

An unusual source of inspiration, perhaps, but as “Poster Child” has been gathering positive reviews since its January publication, it is an apparently successful one as well.

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