LEWISTON — Elizabeth Rush Mueller, photographer and creative nonfiction writer, will read from her work at Bates College at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, in the Edmund S. Muskie Archives, 70 Campus Ave.

Mueller has crossed borders with Bangladeshi cattle smugglers, built homes with Lima’s squatters and participated in the underground performance art scene in Hanoi. She has written the book, “Still Lifes From a Vanishing City: Essays and Photographs of Yangon” (Global Directions/Things Asian Press, 2015).

Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Granta, Orion, The New Republic, Le Monde Diplomatique, Al Jazeera and Witness, among others. She is a recipient of the Metcalf Institute Climate Change Adaptation Fellowship. Her latest project is a book about how five North American communities are responding to rising sea levels.

In this event, Mueller’s readings will include “Holding Hands,” an essay from “Still Lifes,” a book that uses photographs and lyric essays to explore a time of upheaval in Myanmar’s capital city. Mueller captured the stories of people living in colonial-era buildings that the government auctioned off to private investors, who typically razed them.

“Holding Hands” is the story of a refugee from Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Myanmar in 2008, leaving an estimated 138,000 dead.

“She ends up squatting in a colonial building in downtown Yangon that has this incredible history that she doesn’t know anything about,” Mueller said.

“The essay is an investigation of the history of the building and the refugee’s precarious situation, and her relationship to this building and how it’s changing,” she said. “The building turned out to have been the place where the National League for Democracy had met and voted to create a very public referendum asking that the military junta hand over power in 1991.

“For me, creative nonfiction begins with the act of observation,” Mueller said. “A creative nonfiction writer is a witness first — they must learn to describe in writing what they see — but also, a creative nonfiction writer reflects upon how their own perspective might shape their vision of the world that they witness.

“In this way, I think that writing creative nonfiction means honoring two seemingly opposite impulses: One, to be drawn outward and to record the world that you’re part of, and second, to reflect upon and to analyze your place in the world — the world that we describe and shape through writing.”

As the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, Mueller is teaching creative writing courses while working to create partnerships between the English department and other departments and programs at Bates.

Her fall course, “The New Nature Writing,” asks students to explore literary and scientific approaches to climate change as a prelude to writing their own creative nonfiction essays on the topic.

This program is presented by the Language Arts Live series of literary readings.

The reading is free and open to the public. For more information, call 207-753-6963.


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