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Author Sena Jeter Naslund Shares Her Feminine Sensibility in Her Novels

March 22, 2013

Category: Events


NaslundAuthor Sena Jeter Naslund contends that "loving a work of art is almost as good as writing it."   She shared that contention with those gathered March 21 for Catawba College's 27th annual Brady Author's Symposium.

Naslund said her fifth novel, "Ahab's Wife," launched her writing career and "changed my life in many ways." The book, four years in the making, "needed to be" and was her response to the lack of strong female protagonists in American literature.

She recalled when she and her then 11-year-old daughter, Flora, listened to books on tape during a summer road trip.   She realized that one of her daughter's favorite characters in these books on tape was Captain Ahab from Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." She lamented at that time for Flora's sake that there was no female protagonist to admire. "Ahab's Wife" came in response to that lament.

"I wanted this to be a triumph. I was writing this for my daughter after all," Naslund explained of "Ahab's Wife."   "In short, I was writing a triumph of the human spirit, particularly of the female human spirit."

Naslund said her novel, "Four Spirits," was the promise she made to herself fulfilled. Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., she lived through the Civil Rights Movement there and experienced the horror of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four black girls in 1963.

Naslund"I promised that if I ever did become a writer, I would write about Birmingham, Alabama, and its need for change."   Four decades after making that promise to herself and after the success of "Ahab's Wife," "Four Spirits" was published.   It filled a void she said, because there was "no big novel about the American Civil Rights Movement."

"Abundance," her novel about the life of Marie Antoinette, was modeled on the classic five-part tragedy and was Naslund's attempt to paint an accurate portrait of this historic figure based on documented facts.

"I wanted to write from the first-person and the present tense, as she lived her life. Her [Marie Antoinette's] great flaw was that she didn't like to read and her world view wasn't broad enough. But, she met her death with sublime courage. She knew who she was and this is no small achievement."

Set in the year 2020, "the year of clear vision, where people see things," Naslund's "Adam & Eve" was another experiment in how to tell a story. This novel was also "very much about the great value of human life."

In mid-September, Naslund readers will have a new novel to contemplate and another storytelling technique to examine and admire. Her forthcoming "The Fountain of St. James Court or Portrait of an Artist as an Old Woman," she said, will "dispute James Joyce's image of who the artist is." This new novel will offer an artist in contrast to the one portrayed in Joyce's "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man." Naslund can hardly wait to alter the image that has "ruled for almost 100 years."

And there are other projects looming on Naslund's horizons – one she noted in particular: "I want to write a big Civil War novel. I feel there's a vacancy in the landscape of American literature and I want to write "The War and Peace" of the American Civil War."


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