Patricia Hampl in New York City

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May 9, 2018
Sulzberger Parlor
Barnard College
New York City

Patricia Hampl, essayist, memoirist, poet, and Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, read from her new book, The Art of the Wasted Day, published by Viking Penguin in April 2018. The event, which took place at the Sulzberger Parlor at Barnard College, was co-hosted by the ALSCW and Women Poets at Barnard.

Phillis Levin, Chair of the Development Committee for the ALSCW, introduced Hampl, whom she first met in August 1994 at a meeting held in Washington, D.C., for Fulbright Scholars who would be traveling to post-communist countries on their fellowship award. Levin emphasized how The Art of the Wasted Day explores and celebrates the art of daydreaming and the discovery of the mind.

Hampl, who was inspired by Montaigne, the “first modern daydreamer,” said to the audience: “I want to waste my life the way he did.” She spoke of how the theme of her memoir is “love and loss.” In the passages of her memoir that she read from, she begins with an account of daydreaming under a shady tree, travels to a childhood memory of sitting in front of a Magnavox, and weaves in and out of her life – where, unexpectedly, she ends up revisiting a panic attack she experienced on a plane flight and a humorous and lengthy to-do list that echoed in her mind. Her travels of memory and imagination take us to a universe where the act of daydreaming is as essential as doing.

A conversation with an audience of over sixty-five writers and editors, academics, family, and friends followed the reading. They raised various questions regarding the role of Hampl’s deceased husband as a character appearing in the text; asked about her references to Nabokov, and the flow and shift of time in her work; and discussed daydreaming as leisure or stolen time.

The author offered a personal anecdote based on her family’s belief about leisure time and fun belonging to the unambitious working class. Some people in the audience suggested that daydreaming could be considered self-indulgent in the 21st century. For Hampl, daydreaming is a lost art—and it generates the plot of her book.

There was a well-attended reception before the reading began and that continued after the discussion concluded. Copies of The Art of the Wasted Day were sold by a representative of Book Culture.

Photo by permission of Linda Earle