Josip Novakovich reads his works

A small crowd gathered in Banquet Room B last Thursday evening, Jan. 23, to hear writer Josip Novakovich read some of his works. The English Department and the Creative Writing program were responsible for setting up the event.

Novakovich is an award-winning short story writer, novelist and writer of narrative essays. Originally from what is now Croatia, he is known for his dark humor and portrayals of violence, notably the atrocities committed in the Yugoslav wars.

Annette Gilson, head of the Creative Writing program in the English Department, is in charge of bringing distinguished writers to Oakland University. She said that she liked Novakovich from the start.

“I met him four years ago at a conference, and I knew he’d be great with our students,” she said.

After being introduced by Gilson, Novakovich joked with the crowd about the recent cold weather. He then read his short story “Crossbar,” an exaggerated description of the politically violent nature of soccer matches.

“This violence in soccer is always there,” he explained afterward.

Novakovich then read the story “Night Guests,” which tells about a man’s humorous encounter with two drunk drivers. He later said that the story was partly inspired by his experiences living in southern Ohio.

After the reading, Novakovich took questions from the audience. He talked about his lifestyle and his writing habits.

“I’m pretty impulsive [in when I write], but it doesn’t really work for me at evening or at night,” he said, preferring to work with a clear mind during the day.

Afterward, Novakovich agreed to talk more about his life in private. He spoke about his early days of writing.

“It was not my first choice,” Novakovich admitted, explaining that the only way to become a successful writer in Yugoslavia was to have ties to a publisher. Lacking this, he decided to study medicine instead.

It was after he moved to the United States in 1976 that Novakovich began writing. He credited the American “do-it-yourself” spirit for inspiring him to start.

“I thought it was very funny,” Gilson later said of the reading. “He’s a shy reader, but it was a real pleasure.”

Novakovich won the 1997 Whiting Writers Award for Fiction and Nonfiction. His works include his short story collections Salvation and Other Disasters and Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust. He currently lives in Montreal and is an English professor at Concordia University.