On May 19, at Bricks and Birch, a café in Redlands, Professor Chad Sweeney, an English Professor at CSUSB, gave a reading for his recently published book, Little Million Doors. Several of his current and former students were present to show their support.
With graduations approaching, students will soon go out into the world and pursue their careers. For creative writers, readings at café’s and bookstores could soon become a part of their careers.
Jolene Redvale is a current student of Professor Sweeney’s. She says that before attending the reading she had no idea what his published work was about. She says the reading was emotional.
“I got a little bit wound up because he was talking about his dad before he started reading,” Redvale said. “And he was a wheat farmer. And my dad was a wheat farmer, from Kansas. So, I kind of tried to make a connection in my mind.”
The connection became so powerful that she had trouble concentrating on the words at times. Because of this, she was appreciative of the explanations provided in between poems during the reading.
This is how Redvale describes her emotions during the performance: “I felt kind of humble. I felt small because there so much power in words and there’s so many ways of understanding.”
Malika Shimizu is also a current student of Professor Sweeney’s and says the reading was very moving.
“It kind of reminded me in a way of my dads’ death,” Shimizu said. “So in a way I kind of related to it. It was very very moving. I enjoyed the chaos of it”
Ian Ovakimyan Ruiz-Hernandez is a former student of Professor Sweeney and says he considers the Professor a mentor. Having already read the book, he says attending a reading by the author and reading the book are two different experiences.
“The poem is very much a lived experience seeing him read it out loud,” Ruiz-Hernandez said. “You could just take notes on the way he reads his poetry out loud. You could very much just find yourself enraptured by the authenticity and by the level of enthusiasm he reads with.”
Cassius Epps is also a former student of Professor Sweeney and has read his previous works. He compares watching a performance by Professor Sweeney to dancing.
“What he does is he dances to his own rhythm,” Epps said. “Then he just kind of like pulls you in and then you’re kind of just dancing with him for a second. And then someone else. And then someone else. Till every ones doing a different form of the salsa.”
Professor Sweeney says that his motivation for writing Million Little Doors was the extreme grief he experienced after the passing of his father.
Adjusting to life after his passing was a recurring thing explains Professor Sweeney.
“I had to learn again and again and again that he was dead,” Sweeney said. “Every day, many many times I learned it again.”
This amnesia he was having about his fathers passing eventually led him to begin writing the poems that make up his book.
“I hope that it reaches people wherever they need to be reached,” Sweeney said. “It’s a book about loss and loving life. When someone dies, we put them in a box and put them away and we don’t really dwell very long in the realm of death. So, this book does. It really stays there in that space.”
Little Million Doors is an elegy, and it is not uncommon to see people in the audience in tears during a reading, says Professor Sweeney.
“When people read the book there are more ways to read each line. There are many ways to read each line,” Sweeney explained the difference in reading the book and watching a performance. “But when I read it out loud, I am forced to choose one linear path through the whole thing. By the timing and the stress points, I’m choosing a reading.”
For anyone thinking about taking a creative writing class, Professor Sweeney wants them to know that being a writer is a great life.
“When you’re a writer walking down the street is research. Paying attention to people in the elevator is research. You’re constantly researching, and you’re paying attention to how people walk, how they talk, what they say, and what their body gestures signify.”
Professor Sweeney says that seeing his students in the audience during a reading is wonderful.
“It’s very meaningful to connect the worlds because we do a lot of intellectual bonding in the classroom. But then when the class ends it’s over. Everyone goes to their own life. So, this is a bringing together of many worlds. It’s a pretty special experience.”