Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 29, 2022

On Monday evening, the Writing Seminars department premiered a forum for majors, minors and talented undergraduate writers to present selected prose and poetry to the Hopkins community. The inaugural Z Studio featured a short piece of fiction from senior Martin Marks and selected poetry from senior Andy Gettens. Over 60 students filled Arellano Theatre in Levering Union at 7 p.m. to support Marks and Gettens, proving that the literary arts are refreshingly popular amidst engineering experiments and research papers.

Junior Zachary Saxanoff introduced the program and noted that Z Studio was conceived to "give talent a forum to say whatever they want." Saxanoff organized the reading series as "a venue for Writing Sems students to show work they have completed after years of hard work" and encourages these students to "get up in front of an audience and present." Saxanoff assured the audience that "Martin and Andy don't suck," immediately establishing an amusing tone to the reading.

Introducing Marks as "one of the hottest singles in Baltimore" (a riff on his recent selection for a similar list compiled by Baltimore Magazine) and one of the great mysteries of our times, Saxanoff relinquished the floor to the writers.

Marks read his short story, "Grandpa Golem," a twisted, gentle piece concerning a young man's bar mitzvah and his domineering grandmother. David Rosenbaum desperately desires the approval of his formidable Grandmother Oyafiah, who is described in her green dress as a "mean watermelon at the best of times." Oyafiah's strict, orthodox standards frustrate David, especially in his natural desire for cheeseburgers. Although Oyafiah criticizes David as a "sacrilegious heathen" while she herself is fond of shrimp lo mein, the young boy cannot comprehend the old woman's disparaging sensibilities.

Marks employs grave attention to detail that truly illuminates his characters, and his subtle writing manages to transcend stereotypes. In effect, the orthodox Jewish grandmother becomes a dominating force in the piece, and attention is drawn to the woman and her hypocrisies. Meanwhile, the tone of the piece hints at a traditional coming of age story where David will reconcile with his grandmother in melodramatic fury, eventually obtaining an essential lesson in adulthood.

Except Marks completely destroys our expectations. In conventional situations similar to his, the young and old are confronted by a past memory in order to gain understanding of each other. In Marks' story, on the other hand, the past literally manifests itself in the appearance of Grandpa Golem, Oyoafiah's deceased husband. With the reception in uproar and fear, the rabbi and David must employ religious texts to exorcise the "large lump of clay shifting slightly with gravity." The clever, refreshing story was delivered by Marks without solid conviction, but the story deserves distribution.

Gettens read a dozen short poems he had composed from high school to roughly last Sunday night. Gettens hopes to have his first poem, "The Poem Address The Poet," published in the future. While his elusive words in the poem did not succeed on that level, they remain utterly pensive.

Gettens introduced each poem with a similar anecdote, establishing the occasion for every selection, which was extremely helpful in deciphering his loaded metaphors. One of the best in the series, "Catholic Neighbors," examined the hidden secrets and desires of a Catholic family while Andy and friends played in the cluttered basement of their pristine house.

Gettens enlivened the audience with conceited, hilarious poetry from his high school days with the instantly quotable, "To Every Poet That Has Gone Before Me." In that dis, Gettens threatens the famous poets, and concludes with "Suck the marrow from life, Thoreau? Suck on this." The young personality enraptured his audience with "You Are My Plane," in which he personifies a fallen penguin, and ended the session with "The Hospital," a solemn poem about his sick grandmother.

The next Z Studio is scheduled for May 6 in Arellano Theatre. The poet will be Sarah Gibson, but the prose student has not yet been selected. Any student is able to submit to zstudio@jhu.edu for consideration. This worthwhile series finally answers the needs of our talented writers to showcase their work, and, save for the laughable audio system, gives the dying Arellano Theatre a new reason to live.

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