On April 7, students, faculty, and literature enthusiasts alike enjoyed a reading by Anna Keesey from her novel, Little Century. UW Eau Claire professor Allyson Loomis set a friendly and humorous tone to the event with her introduction to her longtime friend Anna Keesey. Keesey, a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, invited listeners into the story by first explaining the geography of Oregon, the violent history of land ownership, and the colonization of the Northwest.
Keesey entertained her audience using sweeping gestures to create a scene’s landscape in mid-air before reading a passage. This honest and illustrative way of speaking also preceded a thought-provoking discussion of the culture and history of land disputes in Northwest America, focusing particularly on Oregon, the setting of her novel.
Keesey read a passage from her novel describing the mass slaughter of a herd of sheep. Her vivid description of the calculated killing of the sheep triggered gasps from her audience. Following the passage’s reading, Keesey described her primary reasons for writing this novel. She reported coming across a picture depicting the aftermath of the slaughter of a herd of animals and wondered how this mass murder was justified. Keesey explained that she noticed similarities between the justification of systematic animal slaughter and genocide.
She then developed this idea further asking: what happens to a place that compromises its values, as it happened in her novel. Can there be a “happy ending?” She told her audience that she wrote this novel mostly during the Iraq conflict and when the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse was brought to public attention, and that this theme was greatly influenced by these events. She left her audience to digest this information as she allowed for questions.
Audience members inquired about Keesey’s writing process as well as advice for their own writing. Keesey openly admitted to the difficulty she had in transitioning from writing short stories to novels. She explained that the difference is not in the tracing of events and the sequence of details, but in how “loud” you make them.
Keesey provided more advice and encouragement to her peers in writing, and the event ended with Anna Keesey and her audience having discovered a new perspective and new ideas to analyze and internalize.
This event, which was hosted by English Fest (with instrumental help from Jon and Allyson Loomis) was preceded by a reading from renowned poet NourbeSe Philip and an alumni panel. These English-themed events play an important part in supporting our English Department community. The upcoming International Poetry Reading (April 22) is another event that will support our student and faculty literary talents. Look for more information about the IPR soon!