The crowd of people in the spacious MUB Theater laughed, listened and learned as Benoit Denizet-Lewis took them through his journeys, reading aloud his works.
On Thursday Feb. 11 at 5 p.m., the English Department Writers Series hosted Denizet-Lewis, a gay, nonfiction writer who has published books and numerous articles on topics such as sexual identity, youth culture, sports and dogs.
Denizet-Lewis enjoys “writing about groups that are loathed, despised or ridiculed, and trying to tell their story, in a way that is not agreeing with them but in an honest, nuanced way as opposed to a political response.”
“Those are the stories that interest me the most,” Denizet-Lewis said, “because stories about subculture groups are often poorly told.”
Denizet-Lewis talked about his most recent book, “Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country,” which is about “all the different kinds of human-dog relationships and the contemporary dog culture, as well as stray and feral dogs in poor communities.”
“I was worried that my dog didn’t like me that much,” Denizet-Lewis said, explaining the reason for writing it while landing many laughs from the audience, “and so part of the reason for the book was trying to finally bond with my dog.”
Denizet-Lewis also writes about many LGBTQ stories. One of his most famous being the New York Times Magazine article, “My Ex-Gay Friend,” and was the first piece he read to the crowd.
The article describes a meeting Denizet-Lewis had with his friend and former colleague at XY magazine, Michael Glatze, who had announced he was no longer gay.
“I’ve written a lot of difficult stories…this was just surreal to go and meet a person you knew and figure out what happened,” Denizet-Lewis commented on the piece.
In the article, Denizet-Lewis explores what happened and tries to do so without judgment, while incorporating himself into the article.
This is something that Denizet-Lewis often does, and explained the reason for doing so, in his writing.
“I will put myself in pieces when there’s an obvious reason to, or when I feel like a way a character is interacting with me is somehow revealing of something.”
As an example, Denizet-Lewis described his article, “Double Lives on the Down Low,” which is about a “subculture for black and Hispanic men who self-identified as straight but had sex with men, as a reaction against urban gay whiteness.”
“The reaction to me as a white gay man was really interesting,” Denizet-Lewis said, “because they perceived me as masculine and that allowed me to go to places with them that they would not have brought me along if they had not perceived me that way.”
“The idea that there was this outsider being involved in this subculture was interesting so I wrote about it in that context,” Denizet-Lewis added.
Denizet-Lewis commented on the fact that “you impact a scene the less you hang out with people.”
“It’s only when you beat them down and stay with them for a long time that I find that I can have the confidence to write with them to get a sense of them,” Denizet-Lewis continued.
As advice for aspiring writers, especially nonfiction writers and journalists, Denizet-Lewis said, “If you’re not curious about the world, and people, that’s a bad sign, if you don’t want to read a lot, that’s a bad sign, if you think that somehow, you can just skate through college and suddenly you’re going to get a great job at a magazine, that’s a bad sign.”
Assistant professor of English in creative writing Jaed Coffin admires that Denizet-Lewis “understands his own experience, and knows himself as an artist.”
“I really liked the fact that he read so many excerpts from magazine pieces,” Coffin said, “it was really effective because it shows students how quick a good writer can enter a story within a sentence or two.”
“It’s something I struggle with in my own writing,” Coffin added.
Speaking about “My Ex-Gay Friend,” Coffin mentioned that “the readers and him were willing to go on these little excursions that Denizet-Lewis used to flesh out story, which was great.”
Although the piece Coffin found “most compelling” was “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists,” about a study determining bisexual people’s arousal patterns.
“He interviewed several people but he was the subject of the research,” Coffin commented, “so that to me is what I think of as true immersion journalism. Not many writers take that step.”
Other audience members enjoyed the talk, such as freshmen Adele Correia.
“It was a great lesson,” Correia said, “and I like how he writes scenes behind the story, and that he knows what he believes.”
The next UNH Writers Series is with Rebecca Makkai, a fiction writer who will be reading on Thursday March 10 at 5 p.m. in MUB Theater I.