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Ars Botanica


Tim Taranto uses his first book Ars Botanica to compile letters to an unborn daughter in a way to reconcile with his loss.

By Levi Wright

Today, Tim Taranto will read from his new book, Ars Botanica, at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. Ars Botanica is also Taranto’s first book, which takes a series of letters that Taranto wrote to his unborn child and compiles them into a collection.

Taranto is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. While at the Workshop, he studied under Ethan Canin, the F. Wendell Miller professor.

“Tim has improved as much as any writer I’ve had in the last 20 years of teaching here in the Workshop,” Canin said. “He came in talented but unformed. He came out of this place on a roll. I’ve only taught four or five students who have learned as much as Tim in my 20 years.”

Canin said Taranto’s books create a sense of empathy for human experiences through his vast worldly struggles, which creates a huge diversity of characters. Taranto becomes his characters and takes on their point of view, bringing his linguistic talents to them.

“He’s not a polished type of writer,” Canin said. “I would say [his work] is powerful, it’s ambitious, it’s heartfelt, and it’s raw,”

Taranto aims to make his writing feel like thoughts for his readers. He strives to make his writing a representation of who he is by viewing the process of reading his book as time spent with the person. He says he has moved his interest from formal writing to becoming more concerned with writing feeling and human emotion.

“I hope my writing sounds like me, feels like me, and thinks like me,” Taranto said. “I hope there is some real, authentic connection between reading my writing on the page and what it feels like to be my friend or have a conversation.”

“[Ars Botanica is] an uneven, often heart-wrenching attempt at resolving a personal struggle through art but also a sobering consideration of how things happen — or don’t,” the Kirkus Review wrote.

For the reading, Taranto will try to pick something that represents the essence of the book. His is a sad book, but it also features humor, and Taranto will try to present that in his reading.

“I hope there’s something rewarding for them to go to the reading,” Taranto said. “Going to a reading is different than reading a book. I hope going to reading gives the people going to Prairie Lights a little something more that they couldn’t have gotten by reading it.”

Taranto aims to make himself vulnerable in his writing and tell it honestly. He views the process of writing this book as something that has made him truly vulnerable and thinks that is why people have responded the way they have.

“I wish I wrote this book under better circumstances,” Taranto said. “I wish I wrote this book when I was ecstatic and so full of joy that I had nothing else to do but write a book that could contain all of my joy. I wish that were the book I wrote. Instead, I wrote this book as a record of crushing brief of inconsolable sadness. I was going through a really hard time. I didn’t know what to do, so I made a record of it through art as an attempt that if I survived it, to look back and see what was actually happening.

“Nobody’s heart broke like mine, but everybody’s heart does break,” he said.

Tim Taranto

When: July 27, 7 p.m.

Where: 15 South Dubuque St.

Cost: Free

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