The mountains were calling, and he had to go.
Steven Schwartz is a retired Colorado State University professor and recipient of many awards. His latest award was for his short story collection, “Little Raw Souls,” which won the 2014 Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the ForeWord Book of the Year Award – Gold Medal Winner in Short Stories.
In 1971, after attending Miami University in Ohio and George Washington University, Schwartz moved to Colorado where he attended University of Colorado.
“I pointed at a picture of the mountains in Life magazine and told my parents, ‘This is where I’m going,’” Schwartz said.
Schwartz, was a psychology major at CU with a passion for writing on the side. He decided to enroll in a creative writing class, which forever opened doors to what his future would hold.
Instead of reading case studies or listening to the stories of others, he wrote his own and found his voice.
“There is a limitation in the psychology field, in the idiom you had to use, but with creative writing, there were many possibilities available to me,” Schwartz said. “I could exercise my imagination and use figurative language.”
While creative writing was not scientific, it allowed Schwartz to express what he needed to – it allowed dramatic opportunities to present themselves.
After living in Santa Fe, Portland, Eugene and New Orleans, Schwartz finally made his way back to Colorado in 1984 and secured a 10-year creative writing teaching job at CSU.
“I was always looking to come back to Colorado,” Schwartz said.
During his time outside of teaching, Schwartz published over 60 essays in journals, in addition to his short story collections and two novels. Currently, he is writing a new novel set in New Orleans, as well as writing and editing for the Colorado Review.
“Steven is the most genuine man I know,” said Derek Askey, a former student of Schwartz and current book reviewer. “Not only is his writing amazing, but he also has been truly influential to me. When I was a grad student at CSU, I finished my thesis early and had all this extra time to write, and Steven would read those even. He is so warming but also such a diligent man.”
Schwartz still corresponds with former students, helping them with writing and offering advice, as well as working alongside them at the Colorado Review. Askey and Jenny Wortman, another former student, both work at the Colorado Review.
“Steven is a very influential man,” Wortman said, an associate editor at the Colorado Review. “Professionally, he is so warm and accessible and generous. He has had a huge impact on me; he’s the kind of person you want to be. With writing, he has such a deep understanding of fiction techniques and the emotional foundations. Listening to him talk about fiction is inspiring and illuminating.”
According to Wortman, Schwartz does an incredible job capturing the human element. He focuses on minute details, all the twists and turns and the importance of minor characters.
She recounts, in one short story called “Opposite Ends of the World,” the main character struggles with multiple sclerosis. An Entire page outlines the protagonist of the story writing an angry letter about the main character’s barking dogs.
“It is such a great portrait of a minor character – it’s brilliant, like the neighbor has no other sort of ability to connect than to focus on the barking dogs,” Wortman said.
Those details come together when Schwartz sits down and becomes absorbed in his story.
“No matter what, no matter how many times you have written, you still have to face the blank page … which is an act of will in itself,” Schwartz said. “You have to have the faith that you will knock and someone will be home.”
He notes that once you get writing, you become consumed by the story – like meditating.
“You sink far deeper into yourself and discover things about yourself that you didn’t know until you write them,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz’s fiction writing is generally rooted in his experiences, in things he saw and heard. Fiction enables him to add the dramatic element and tell his story.
He says we write about our obsessions. It may be about family or a romantic entanglement. Whatever it is, the story must be vibrant, and cannot be formatted in a horizontal line.
“You must make life present on a page; if you don’t let imagination take over, you may have a great story, but maybe no life on a page,” Schwartz said.
Collegian Senior Reporter Josephine Bush can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.