Jess Arndt Reads From Book “Large Animals” at UC Davis’ Creative Writing Series

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Jess Arndt. Photo: Johanna Breiding

By Diana Zhu

DAVIS – On Tuesday, the UC Davis English department continued its Creative Writing Series with visiting writer, Jess Arndt, who read an excerpt from their debut story collection, “Large Animals,” which was short-listed for the California Book Prize and long-listed for The Story Prize.

The English department has a subset of master of fine arts in creative writing, and this series was in collaboration with the UC Davis Shields Library.

Lucy Corin, English professor at UC Davis, welcomed everyone to the event and introduced creative writing master of fine arts students Rowena Chodkowski and Sawyer Elms, who opened the event by reading from their own personal creative writing pieces.

Chodkowski read a deeply profound diary entry on bots in academic journal comment sections, and Elms read an excerpt on their childhood experience with ponds and tadpoles.

Graduate student, and professor at UC Davis, Jordan Dahlen, introduced Arndt by describing the feeling of reading their book like free diving, saying, “[Arndt’s] writing carries a gaseous, fatty buoyancy that feels constantly [brought] forward by its own earnest musculature. Voices and places jostle like warm, little cells in each of the stories in ‘Large Animals.’ While the stories and their effects vary wildly, they’re all deeply human, always busy with their grotesqueries as they are with their duty, stitched together by their desire to live. We are grateful, and we are lucky for whatever comes. Now please join me in welcoming Jess Arndt.”

Arndt thanked Dahlen for the wonderful introduction and praised Chodkowski and Elms for transporting them from their island-dwelling into their readings.

Arndt began by saying that they will read “not from [their] computer”, but from paper, and this was meant as “a way to bring [us] closer, not further.”

They chuckled and dove into reading their excerpt, a piece that confronts what it means to have a body; a jarring, blunt narrative on the psyche of desire, the comforts and shame in being human.

Arndt read:

“I was preoccupied with a single fear: that I’d smell different, or I already smelled different and that I tried to keep my body from rubbing things, leaving any kind of residue or moldy funk.”

“I desperately wanted some kind of animal intimacy and to be invited back towards. Elle kept sealed from me, places I used to feel at home in, but now can barely…The gap kept expanding, and I sweated to reach my hand across the outspreading bed. Night equals endless. Wasn’t there some math equation about approaching zero but never getting there, never touching?”

For more information on Arndt’s “Large Animals,” visit: www.greenapplebooks.com/book/9781936787487.

For more information on the Creative Writing Series, visit: https://english.ucdavis.edu/mfa-creative-writing/creative-writing-series-2020-2021.

Diana Zhu is a fourth-year transfer student from Rancho Cucamonga, CA. She is majoring in Chinese and minoring in Professional Writing.


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