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Professor returns to CU Denver with novel

Emily Ruskovich reads from Idaho

Upon the release of her LA Times bestselling novel, Idaho, Emily Ruskovich was hired onto Boise State University’s Master of Fine Arts faculty—but she wrote and published the book while teaching creative writing at CU Denver. Last month, Ruskovich returned to Colorado to give a reading to her former associates and students.

The assistant professor read excerpts from Idaho, a novel that concerns itself with the construction of memory and identity after a young girl is murdered at her mother’s hands. Praised for its poetic stylization by The New York Times, Ruskovich’s Tivoli reading showcased her prose’s natural sense of rhythm and sound.

“Language doesn’t seem like something extra to me,” Ruskovich said. “It’s so crucial to the plot and the story, and rhythm was what I worked the hardest on.”

For Ruskovich, Idaho is a setting that transcends simply being the place she grew up. “‘[Idaho is] a trail of impressions followed through like a line of unconscious music,’” Ruskovich read, telling the story of how a misheard phrase (“Ida, ho!”) with a fabricated definition was reconstructed and reclaimed until it became the name of a state. The setting suits the novel’s primary protagonist, Anne, as she tries to find meaning-making in her husband’s failing memory.

Ruskovich, like Anne, admits to being inextricably caught up in life’s most unanswerable questions. “[The invention of the novel] began when I was cutting wood with my family in the mountains,” Ruskovich said. “It was so far removed from everything, so far from civilization. My parents were loading wood into the truck, and I just had this feeling that something had happened in this place. I didn’t know what, but I felt it was devastating. The process of writing the novel was figuring out what happened in those woods.”

Years later, she knew she was writing about a mother who aimed a hatchet at her daughter without warning or cause. But Ruskovich’s narrative does not make a villain out of a murderer. “I was a very guilty child, and I thought I would end up in prison,” Ruskovich said. “Even though I didn’t, I did always feel like I could empathize with people who had done terrible things. I felt I knew what it was like to regret something terrible.”

The reading was hosted by CU Denver’s creative writing department. Upcoming events include a poetry reading by Kevin Prufer at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 and the annual Jake Adam York Memorial Reading in the Spring semester.

Taylor Kirby
Taylor Kirby

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