by Claude Christensen
Jonathan Wlodarski writes what he terms “reality ±1 fiction.”
Wlodarski is a second-year graduate student studying creative writing in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program (NEOMFA). He hails from Hubbard, a suburb of Youngstown, and has authored such short stories as “Dead Day” and the Pushcart-nominated “The Cake.”
In Wlodarski’s “reality ±1 fiction” a commonplace setting is altered to include something fantastical, something truly and unsettlingly weird. Drawing from his own personal experiences, Wlodarski can twist the idea of a funeral cake into a story about an obsessive, murder-inciting addiction, and the image of a “blurry person” into an unsettling dating-app chat that tests the very notion of individuality.
The inspiration for these stories is often commonplace: an episode of one of Wlodarski’s favorite shows, a discussion of death at the dinner table, the unanticipated death of a squirrel. The mundane is Wlodarski’s muse and material; the uncanny and fantastic a means for piercing through the superficial gloss of the everyday.
Feeding an appetite for the writing of others encourages Wlodarski to continue writing his own stories, he says, and he often reads works associated with the weird and slipstream genres. Some of his favorite authors of the moment include Aimee Bender, Alexander Chee, and Lesley Nneka Arimah, all authors who twist reality with odd, fantastical elements.
Wlodarski chose the NEOMFA program in order to study with his mentor, published author and faculty member Christopher Barzak, and to take advantage of the collective resources of the program’s four member universities. In the ambitiously creative environment of the NEOMFA program, Wlodarski finds that the constant expectation to produce new material and seek feedback from his peers has helped him to dramatically improve his own uniquely strange writing.
In the future, Wlodarski hopes to teach in a university-setting. He wants to remain in a creative, engaging atmosphere. Writing needs a supportive community to thrive. And, well, an abundance of good writing is just as necessary for the good health of any community. As Wlodarski so eloquently puts it, “What else would people do when they’re bored of mowing their lawns?”
They might, if his stories are any guide, find something truly strange to do.
After a preparatory 10-mile hike, Claude Christensen ate with relish the the heads of ten dark-chocolate bunnies the day after Easter.
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wlodarski)