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Single words and small things with Ryan Bloom

Last semester, The Retriever sat down and interviewed two of the many phenomenal faculty members who have careers in writing at UMBC, Lia Purpura and Michael Fallon. This semester, The Retriever is continuing this series and kicking things off with an interview with Ryan Bloom who, aside from being an English lecturer at UMBC, is a novelist and essayist.

His essays and short stories have been published and praised by The New Yorker, Guernica, PEN America, Salon, Black Clock, The American Prospect, The Baltimore Sun and The Arabesques Review, among others. He is also an accomplished translator, most notably for his full-length translation of Albert Camus’ Notebooks 1951-1959, which was shortlisted for the French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation Excellence in Translation Awards in 2009.

Bloom began by telling The Retriever about his earliest childhood memory of writing. “In one of my kindergarten classes we were assigned to write, illustrate, and bind a book,” he remembered. “I wrote about two friends sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet at the neighborhood cemetery, whereupon, of course, Dracula shows up — because, why not, right? — and he pulls one of the kids underground, and cue the hero quest.”

This early foray into fiction lingered with Bloom, as well as his family. “My parents still have it somewhere,” he said. “It’s bound in blue cardboard covers with a drawing of a confused bat on the front. That’s probably my first memory of full-tilt fiction writing.”

Although Bloom could not remember what exactly inspired him to have a career in writing, he did speak about the things that keep him inspired to write in the present. “Many things can inspire a person to write: a lone individual protesting outside of the Vatican embassy at 6:00 a.m., sky dark, not a soul around to witness the protest. A kid, maybe five or six, sitting on a kickball in an otherwise empty field in Washington.  An ice-encased tree branch. An enormous pothole on 39th Street. Any of these things could lead to writing, but at the same time they’re all rather quotidian, too,” Bloom said.

For Bloom, inspirational moments aren’t huge and grandiose. “[These things are] probably not what we typically think of when we say inspiration, a word that tends to lead to gross abstractions like love and hate and anger and fear and passion and death. To answer the original question, I guess I’m most ‘inspired’ by specific images, a line of dialogue overheard. Small things.”

According to Bloom, his writing career, and more specifically translating older works, has taught him a valuable lesson. “Patience and persistence. Plain and simple. Writing itself imparts things like perspective and empathy and so on, but the career part, that’s been all about fortitude, not giving up, embracing difficulty, believing in one’s self, trying to maintain balance. Knowing that you always have more to learn. That a writer is always becoming, never become,” he said.

As with inspiration, it’s all about the small things. “Translating teaches the importance of every single word, of the varied ways in which the same basic thought can be expressed, of the weight and shape and, in a way, tangibility words carry, which is something I imagine poets have always known,” said Bloom.

To conclude, we asked Bloom about the accessibility of these lessons and the writing career from which they came. “Writing is for anyone who feels called to it, because if you feel that call to expression, youll be dedicated to your craft,” said Bloom, “And whether that craft happens to be writing or painting or dance, or any other artistic endeavor, if it calls to you with enough force, you’ll be willing to put in the time, to ‘keep your butt in the chair,’ as one of my professors once told me, and simply sitting and focusing and doing is half the battle.”

“Good writers are a dime a dozen,” Bloom concluded. “Dedicated writers are rare.”