November 17, 2016

Professor Discusses Role of Originality in Literature

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Prof. Ernesto Quiñonez, English, author of award-winning novels Bodega Dreams and Chango’s Fire, discussed the “fingerprints of influence” and how writers assimilate plots from other authors at a lecture Wednesday.

“Steal everything,” Quiñonez said to prospective writers. “[But] the talent lies in how to bring to the story your fingerprints.”

Quiñonez noted that Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Richard Wright’s Native Son share many elements. For example, Camus’ colonized Algeria and Wright’s Chicago ghetto both demonstrate racial tension in a universe without justice in which “reality and absurdity are the same side of the same coin.”

“Because there are so many kernels of existentialist passages all over Native Son, Camus could have read Native Son and seen how he could word all of this differently … bring in his Algerian soil and upbringing and philosophies [of the absurd],” Quiñonez said.

Even if Camus was inspired by from Wright’s plot, Quiñonez said most important was that Camus wrote “in his own words, with his own fingerprints.”

Quiñonez added that his own novel Bodega Dreams attempted to “rewrite Gatsby.” Quiñonez stressed that writers “write for readers,” and “readers want good stories.”

“Scholars will find you out,” he said. “But remember, we don’t write for scholars.”

Quiñonez also abandoned the conventional notion of originality, saying that it is “not just overrated” but that “it doesn’t exist”.

“To say you are coming out of nothing is impossible … even if you don’t read, you’re being influenced by television, movies, your friends,” he said. “You are coming from somewhere.”

Rather, Quiñonez identified originality with one’s own beliefs and philosophy.

“Originality is how much it excites me — something told differently or from a point of view that I have yet to experience,” he said.