CELEBRATE! Profile: Jillian Weiss '12
An Elon University senior studying creative writing fuses 'magical realism' with nonfiction to explore themes of politics, loneliness and belonging.
By Caitlin O'Donnell '13
For Jillian Weiss, the only way to reach the truth is through a little touch of magic.
In a collection of four essays founded in real experiences from the decade she spent in London as a child, Weiss explores themes of politics, loneliness and belonging through the combination of magical realism and nonfiction. The two unique styles are rarely, if ever, used in conjunction in creative writing.
The work of the senior English major whose concentration is in creative writing is the latest to be featured in a series of E-Net profiles on undergraduate research to be presented during CELEBRATE! 2012.
"The only real way I can write about myself is to use magic," Weiss said of her experimentation in the genre. "To me, using metaphor and magic is getting to my own personal truth because that is the way I see the world. I'm using magic to get to places I don't know how else to express."
While the definition of magical realism varies, Weiss insists its use in her work differs from that employed by other authors, such as J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series, in that it is taken as a reality of daily life and not considered another reality outside of the norm.
"The word magical realism doesn't make sense, it contradicts itself," she said. "But I'm trying to make the point that it's truer than the truth to write with it if you're doing it correctly."
Weiss' interest in magical realism originated in a Southern Literature course over Winter Term when she was introduced to the style in Fred Chappell's "I Am One of You Forever," which illustrates a family experiencing grief in the form of a telegram that cannot be
"It was a beautiful picture of how people deal with grief and I had never read a story that had dealt with it so beautifully and so magically," Weiss said. "I thought, 'this is the truest way this story can be written, and yet it was magical.'"
As she has pursued the project, Weiss has not gone without her fair share of doubt that a link between magical realism and nonfiction was possible. Her mentor, assistant English professor Cassie Kircher, admits that she was hesitant about the project at first and urged Weiss to reconsider her approach.
"From the beginning Jillian took risks with her project," Kircher said. "How do you take risks when writing nonfiction? You push on the truth, stretching metaphors until they become magical so they tell even greater truths."
One of those greater truths involve the experiences of foreigners in London seeking citizenship. To illustrate the experience of actual neighbors from her time there, Weiss describes houses in London as sinking into the ground in one of her essays.
Weiss said she hopes readers approach her work with an open mind, even though her idea can seem strange.
"I want people to come out of it thinking this is a certain way of seeing the world and is a different way of expressing things honestly and truthfully," she said. "I like to think this is an honest portrayal of how I see the world and how I've dealt with it."
CELEBRATE! is Elon University's annual, weeklong celebration of student achievements in academics and the arts. It runs this year from April 22-28.