WILKES-BARRE — Rivka Galchen finds inspiration all around her. Her stories are set in motion by both peripheral thoughts and grand concepts, and she can be moved to create by complete strangers to the people in her family.
The Columbia University professor and author of fiction, non-fiction and journalism will kick off Wilkes University’s Allan Hamilton Dickson Spring Writers Series with a 7 p.m. reading Feb. 28 in the salon of Kirby Hall. Readings by writers Henry Veggian and Valeria Luiselli will continue the series during events in March and April respectively.
Galchen has accomplished more by the age of 40 than average writers do in a lifetime.
In 2010, Galchen was named one of The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40. She’s the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and was a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow among other honors.
Before earning her master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia in New York City, Galchen received her medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
“In my family, pursuing writing was synonymous with saying you wanted to pass out in a gutter, drunk, and have no health insurance,” Galchen said. “It took me a while to turn my energy to (writing) as an idea for a profession.”
When she did embrace her passion, Galchen had essays published in The Believer and Scientific America. She went on to become a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and continues to write pieces for The New Yorker and other publications.
In 2008, Galchen’s first novel, “Atmospheric Disturbances” was published to critical acclaim. The fiction follows a male protagonist who convinces himself that his wife has been replaced by an imposter as a means of coping with falling out of love.
“I’m interested in the way people lie to themselves,” Galchen said. “It’s a very special kind of lie that takes a lot of creativity and even intelligence.”
Galchen said she was intrigued by a character whose rather ordinary circumstance of a cooling romance is so offensive to his sense of self that he finds it “more interesting and worthwhile to come up with another explanation.”
The work also included a reference to her late father. Galchen’s main character was obsessed with the work of meteorology professor Tzvi Gal-Chen, who shared her father’s name and profession.
Galchen called the reference a “snag on fabric, like a little nail sticking out.”
“It’s my first book,” she said looking back on her thought process. “My father has a funny name. I miss my father. I put him in there almost as a private joke to me.”
Galchen’s collection of short stories, “American Innovations,” was published in 2014. Plots include a young woman’s furniture walking out on her and a narrator who feels compelled to deliver a takeout order that’s been delivered to her in err.
Galchen said the short stories are essentially rewrites of classic stories infused with female main characters. She said inspiration came from a joke she had with herself in reference to James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
“I wanted to think about what kind of character Walter Mitty would be if he were a woman and how it doesn’t work the same way and how it changes,” Galchen said.
Galchen likens herself to a magpie when it comes to gathering ideas for stories.
“You take things in and later you find out why it detained you,” she said. “You don’t always know right away.”
Her most recent work of non-fiction, “Little Labours” is a collection of essays and observations, many of which, she said, have been written in the smaller window she has to write since becoming a mother three years ago.
“The actual context of some of the essays might not be immediately recognizable as being in the room with the baby, but they are in an oblique way and sometimes a really straightforward way.”
Galchen, who will teach two craft classes to Wilkes undergraduates and MFA students when she visits, said she recommends reading as much as possible to any aspiring writer.
“And, in a funny way, I think it’s when you’re not studying writing that you’re growing a lot as a writer,” Galchen said. “I feel there’s a huge benefit in studying what you’re interested in in addition to writing, because I feel that grows you the most.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TLArts.
IF YOU GO:
What: Author Rivka Galchen will read from her work.
Where: The salon of Kirby Hall, 202 S. River St., Wilkes-Barre
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 28
Additional information: All readings in the Allan Hamilton Dickson Spring Writers Series are free and open to the public and will take place at Kirby Hall.