By Mary Sprague
Elm Staff Writer
The porch of the Rose O’Neill Literary House was full — faculty, staff, students, and members of the Chestertown community came out for the release of Lia Purpura’s lyrical essay, “Scream (or never minding)” on Thursday, Oct. 19.
“Scream” went on to win a Pushcart Prize in 2016. Purpura has won four Pushcart Prizes for her various works, in addition to fellowships at the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Education Association, and the Fulbright Foundation. Right now, she is teaching at the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Wash., and working as the Writer in Residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
After an enthusiastic introduction from Dr. James Allen Hall, director of the Literary House and series editor of the Letterpress, Purpura read her essay to an attentive audience. “Scream” focuses on the effects of consumerism on art, specifically, how Edvard Munch’s painting of the same name is emotionally diminished by its reproduction on consumerist objects; “a gesture performed over and over, on coffee mugs, tote bags, keychains, and cards.”
Purpura advocates mindfulness and deeper thought — “minding greatly,” as she says — is the key to reversing this materialistic viewpoint. She says in her essay, “You might try [minding] — … at the end of a day finding yourself abruptly alone, and since certain sounds cannot be unheard, certain images cannot be unseen, … you might press your hands to your ears and, at that spot where the world leaks in, … there, in that moment a scream originates, try to make something of that.”
Purpura took questions after the reading. During this section, she said that walks are her main source of inspiration, and attributed her free-flowing thought process to the connection, enjoyment, and deeper understanding of nature.
“I was interested in why I was so agitated [about] art on trinket-y things, and it unspooled from there. We [Purpura and the Letterpress team] decided on the essay together. I remember Professor Hall said there was something beautiful about producing an essay about mass production, and having it be well-treated, respectful, and … an object … artistically produced,” she said.
The celebration continued with the sale of the chapbooks and autographs from the author. There was also a cake designed with Munch’s “Scream.” Purpura saw the humor and irony of the food, and excused its consumerist overtones with a smile.
“Scream” was first published in 2015 in the Fall Issue of the “Georgia Review.” It was published in two forms by the Literary House Press — a paperback and a handmade letterpress-printed deluxe edition. It featured original illustrations by local artist Stuart Cawley.
According to the Literary House’s website, these chapbooks are released every two years, on odd years. On even years, they release an anthology of contemporary American poetry. The Literary House Press focuses on showcasing the talents of Maryland-tied creative minds and “are particularly invested in supporting the work of women, LGBTQ[+] authors, and writers of color.”