Melissa Bank '82, author of “The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing” and “The Wonder Spot,” returned to campus as the first alum of the Colleges to participate in the President's Forum on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
This was her first visit since 1999, when she read from her first novel, which spent 16 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and was translated into 28 languages, she told the audience in Albright Auditorium.
Bank preceded a reading from her second book with words of wisdom and encouragement for other writers. While writing comes easily to some, she said, it took her 10 years to write Girls' Guide. “Writing has always been hard for me,” she explained, “but I write for the times when it's going well … there's honor in overcoming something that doesn't come easily.”
She illustrated the point with a story about a young girl who gave her a medal, which she later discovered was for fourth place. “There's more pleasure in fourth place than in handily winning first.”
After reading a chapter titled Teenage Romance from her second book, Bank answered questions from the audience. She discussed her writing processes and the struggles that sometimes ensue, such as the pressure for an author to perform on a second novel after their first is a great success. “I can't read anything while I'm writing,” she said, “I'm so desperate not to write like myself, I'll write like anybody.” The key, though, is to “find material where you belong, what belongs to you. Find inspiration everywhere and turn it into your own thing.”
Majoring in American Studies at William Smith, Bank went on to earn a Masters in Fine Arts for fiction at Cornell University. Her other literary honors include the 1993 Nelson Algren Award for her short fiction, which she described as the best short story out of the 3,000 submitted, although it wasn't as much comfort — and didn't change things — as she thought.