OSU is often noted for its science chops, but what about the arts? Living among us is author Elena Passarello, accomplished essayist and the first female winner of the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival’s Stanley and Stella Competition. Yet, despite these credentials, she teaches nonfiction writing for lucky graduate and undergraduate students right here at OSU. To boot, she’s also a musician, vocal performer and actor.
“I got a degree in writing and then started paying the bills doing stuff like children’s theater, voice over work, and then I started a theater crew where I worked as a theater actor for 10 years.” She says over her start as a performer.
Now she is primarily a writer, with a well received book already under her belt. She released Let Me Clear My Throat, a book of essays, in 2012.
“The book is 15 essays about the human voice. Each one is about a vocal moment, but hopefully the similarities stop there,” explains Passarello.
The book is split into three sections, the first section is about memes, the second is about singing and the third section is about fake voices, such as ventriloquists.
Last month she read an essay from the first section at The Magic Barrel. It was about Howard Dean’s iconic yell that somewhat apocryphally is remembered to have led to the end of his campaign for president.
Speaking about what got her thinking about writing about the human voice, she says, “I grew up in the south, and I moved to Pittsburgh. And all the people talk about for the first 6 weeks you’re there, is how strange you sound.” Observations about the voice “came from paying attention to the voice for 20 years. I was like, ‘uncle,’ I should use this as an extended project.”
Regarding her win of the prestigious Stanley and Stella Competition. “I won it in 2011 and judged it this year,” she says with well-earned pride. The competition features men and women doing their best Stanley or Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire, screaming their heads off. Which adds authenticity to her voice on the subject of the voice.
While she works on a new book, she will continue teaching at OSU and do readings across the country from her first book and her other work. She’s got upcoming readings in Vermont, Massachusetts and Kentucky, in addition to a closer January 28th appearance at Powell’s Books in Portland.
Her next book will be essays about animals.
“I’m going to do a bestiary all of celebrity animals,” says Passarello, “I always set up rules for myself with these projects, ‘cause it sort of keeps me going,” she continues describing the criteria for getting into the new book, “so the rules are: we have to have named them, the name has to appear in some sort of historical record, and they have to have done something. Something spectacular.”
To see Elenas’s blog, buy her book, or follow her appearance schedule, vist her website, www.elenapassarello.com.
by Ygal Kaufman