Poet Lauren Russell Visits Wheaton

Poet Lauren Russell paid a visit to our beautiful campus this past Monday to give some of the students and faculty at Wheaton a reading of her poetry. Russell is the author of What’s Hanging on the Hush and the up and coming poetry book Descendants.

Portrait of Lauren Russell. Photo by Caroline Chaffiotte.

Russell always knew she wanted to be a writer, even before she could write, she would “dictate stories to [her] mom.” In the second grade she began writing poetry, and programs in school that she signed up for, allowed her to do this frequently.

As a writer, Russell doesn’t believe in inspirations, and poems don’t just “come” to her as people often believe they do. She sits down in order to write, she sets restraints for herself and forces herself to grow as an author and poet. Despite this, she loves to write and calls it her “life force,” stating that it is what makes her “feel alive.”

The soon-to-be released book Descendants is a project that Russell has recently finished. Descendants was written when Russell discovered her great great grandfather’s diary. He had been a confederate soldier, who upon arriving home, had 20 children with three of his former slaves.

Emotionally, this work was “a lot” for Russell because of the necessity to “engage with some of the sources and thinking about violence and racism and rape.” The amount of research, though draining, introduced her to family she had never known and experiences she never thought she would have.

Switching gears to something more lighthearted, I also had a chance to find out some of her favorites. Russell’s favorite color is red, her favorite food is popcorn although intuitively she says pizza, and her favorite movie is is Velvet Goldmine.

Russell did not have a conventional college experience because she had dropped out of high school and then years later enrolled into a college, but still did not have a residential experience. College made her realize that she was actually good at writing and introduced her to a “wonderful advisor Pan Booker.” Booker supported her work and gave her confidence.

Her first impression of Wheaton was the beautiful old buildings. And as a send off, Russell says students should not be too “concerned with getting published” and should be more focused on , learning craft. “Read widely, learn to write. Send it out. Fetishizing getting published” isn’t the most useful use of time.