Interview conducted by Ryan Monahan
Karen Bilotti, Coordinator of Writing Tutorial Services and Adjunct Instructor of Writing, has been at RWU for 26 years.
Although between books at the moment, Karen Bilotti intends to re-read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Published in 1952, the narrator begins the novel by claiming that he is an “invisible man,” as other people refuse to see him as a person. As a black man growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s, the narrator details the enormous struggles his race faced in America during the 20th century. Powerfully written and compelling, and Karen highly endorses Ellison’s novel.
Karen has a long list of memorable reads, most of which she wants to re-read. Among many others, Karen listed The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill, and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Didion writes a heartbreaking novel about her grief in response to her deceased husband and daughter, both lost within two years of each other. Karen raved about the writing techniques Didion applied, and has used the novel in her Expository Writing classes in the past.
Karen shared with me a story of meeting one of her favorite authors, Junot Díaz. One day while she was working in the Writing Center, two of her tutors exclaimed that Díaz was presenting that day at Johnson & Wales University. Immediately, Karen, abandoning work, drove to Providence to see him speak. Karen describes “this mob of students, which had to be illegal and unsafe” at the doors of the auditorium, but nevertheless she and her tutors shouldered their way to the front of the throng, claiming front row seats amongst the JWU faculty. Afterwards, the members of the front row had the good fortune to receive an autographed copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, on of Karen’s personal favorites.
Recommended by Karen’s colleague, This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann tells the story of the “sandhogs” in New York City at the turn of century, who were tasked with digging the tunnels under the East River that would carry the trains between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Also on Karen’s “to-do” list of books is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. After reading Housekeeping by the same author, Karen can’t wait to pick up Robinson’s second novel, about the relationships between fathers and sons ranging from the Civil War to the twentieth century.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, about the complex relationships and allegiances of the family of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, is to Karen “the closest I’ve seen in a novel where what the author describes is a painting.” Woolf’s writing techniques and style are strikingly impressive to Karen, and she highly recommends it to any avid reader.