Lynn Levin took 15 years to write the stories in her debut short-story collection, House Parties. While Levin has nine books to her credit, she is known primarily for her work in poetry. Her most recent poetry collections include The Minor Virtues and Miss Plastique.
Originally from the Midwest, Levin moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. Many of the stories in House Parties were informed or inspired by Bucks County, which has a long tradition of nurturing the arts. “Sendings” is a tale of two neighbors, one of whom invents a devious plot for revenge. Another story, “The Dirty Martini,” conjures images of a strip club that might seem familiar to some Bucks County residents.
Levin, the 1999 poet laureate for Bucks County, has been a writing teacher at Drexel University since 2000. Previously she taught creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania. The longer she teaches, the more she loves it.
“I learn more about writing and literature every year, and I appreciate being able to experience generational change in students,” she says. “I also cherish my relationships with my colleagues. … Before this, I had careers in publishing and advertising, and those were exciting and nourishing experiences, but nothing compares to the soul fulfillment you get from teaching.”
Why did you write House Parties?
I started writing these short stories after I was asked to teach a creative writing class at the University of Pennsylvania that covered both poetry and short-fiction writing. I’d never written short stories before, and to teach the craft I knew that I had to practice the craft. I found that I loved the challenge of creating unique plots with “what if ” situations and developing protagonists who relentlessly, sometimes humorously, sometimes foolishly spar with their fates. I liked seeing where my characters’ personalities would take them, so I kept inventing characters and plots, and writing stories.
I write about some psychological themes, such as the doubled self or second self, as well as encounters between people and nature, marriages, and relationships between parents and their adult children. I also include a few laugh-out-loud social satires in the book.
Talk about your connection to Bucks County.
I’ve lived in Bucks County now for over 40 years, and I love the area. Not only does Bucks County have amazing history, but it also has excellent literary communities. There’s a real home here for poets and writers. The county has one of the oldest poet-laureate programs in the country. I’m proud to be one of Bucks County’s poet laureates.
What does it mean to have success later in life?
I think it is great to have my debut work of fiction come out at age 70. When Spuyten Duyvil, the Brooklyn-based indie press, said yes to House Parties, my first thoughts were: Is this actually happening? While House Parties is my ninth book, its publication has ushered me into the new world of being an author of a work of fiction. (Editor’s note: Her story “Tell Us About Your Experience,” which is featured in House Parties, won the Bucks County Short Fiction Contest in 2021.) I love seeing people discover or re-discover the joy of reading short stories.
How do you spend your time when you are not writing or teaching?
I work in my garden during the warmer months. I keep up with my French thanks to being a member of Alliance Française of Doylestown. I enjoy getting together with my adult children and 1-year-old grandson. I go to the gym a bit and hang out with friends.
What do your students have to say about you?
I appreciate that some of them take more than one class with me. They call me “a nice lady who truly cares about her students and their work.” You never know how long a teacher’s influence will linger with a student, but here’s hoping that, if some of my students recall me years down the road, they will remember that I tried to lead discussions about serious things, that I added humor and that I encouraged them. I also like that “nice lady” thing.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring authors and your grandson when he is older?
Keep trying. If you find something that you are good at and that inspires you, don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. Ignore the naysayers. Be persistent. Pursue the things that you love.