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You Are Hugo House: The Surprise Young-Adult Writer

Posted Tue, 12/09/2014 - 3:40pm by  |  Category:

“You Are Hugo House” is a new blog series profiling students, patrons, event attendees, folks who’ve met with the writers-in-residence, and more. If you’re new to Hugo House, we hope you’ll find someone like you being profiled. If you’re a regular, find out more about our programs and about your fellow Hugonauts. As we make the transition out of the current building, we want you to know: Hugo House is you, the people who write and read and listen here. The structure comes second.


Claudia Wolfe Ollestad

Claudia Wolfe Ollestad

By David Schmader

At the start of the first class in my Brainstorming course, I go around the table and have students introduce themselves with their names and a sentence or two about their writing histories. As Claudia Wolfe Ollestad told us in that first class, she’d never written anything creative in her life. She wasn’t a stranger to the written word—she majored in English Lit in college and now works as a sales executive for a title insurance company. But she’d never before tried writing as artistic expression and was ready to do so now.

In the class, I have students bring in stories or projects (or fledgling ideas for stories or projects) they’re interested in exploring through our weeks of brainstorming exercises and group feedback. Claudia’s chosen project was a fictional story about an adolescent girl, written in the first person. From the very first draft she read in class, Claudia displayed an almost uncanny ability to channel the voice of her young protagonist with zero of the cutesy affect or phony advanced eloquence that trips up many who try to “write young.” Over the next few weeks, Claudia only tightened her grasp on this slippery character, leaving one class with instructions to send her narrator into a new, specifically challenging adventure and coming to the next class having done so, all the while keeping her character’s sweet, stunted, deceptively simple voice intact. It was thrilling, and Claudia seemed as surprised and delighted by what she was writing as we all were.

“I was shocked at the response I got,” Claudia told me earlier this month, before launching into an apology about how little writing she’s been doing lately. “I feel guilty!” As for now, she’s immersed in her job and reading for pleasure on the side. Pressed to tell me what she’s reading, Claudia says, “Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado. It is so fun and I love the voice—first-person narrator, remembering what’s it like to be young and the mistakes that you made and how lucky you are to be alive.”

Note: Claudia’s teacher, David Schmader, teaches the same Brainstorming course during the coming winter quarter. Sign up here.