The Kellogg Writers Series rounded out its fall semester readings with novelist Scott Russell Sanders. Associate Professor of English Kevin McKelvey introduced Sanders.
“I’m really excited to have Scott here,” McKelvey said. “He’s someone who I’ve read for a number of years. Scott Sanders was a longtime professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, and has published over 20 books of fiction and nonfiction and is the winner of many awards. Tonight, he will be reading from a current project that is also connected to the photographs here projected.”
Sanders began the reading by giving the audience the basic details of the project from which he would be reading selections.
“For the last few years, I’ve been working on a project with the person whose name you see here, Peter Forbes,” Sanders said.
Sanders explained that Forbes was a part of the environmental and social justice movement for a living and had been taking photographs since he was young. Forbes and Sanders had wanted to collaborate on a book for a long time and came up with a strategy to do so. Forbes sent Sanders about 200 photographs, out of which Sanders selected 40 to write short stories, each one between about 650 and 720 words. Sanders told the audience that he had finished 26 of the stories so far. He said that sometimes the ideas for his short stories came easily to him.
“Some photographs I would look at, and I would begin to hear a voice pretty soon,” Sanders said, “a voice either of the subject—the person speaking in her voice or his voice—and sometimes it’s a third person voice.”
The first selection he read was titled “Topsy Turvey” and was accompanied by a picture of a little girl hanging upside down from a tree. This was a story about a little girl trying to understand the world as she grew up and about seeing the world from a different angle.
The next selection, called “Trash,” was accompanied by a picture of a shopping cart filled with bicycle tubes that was sitting in a jungle. The story Sanders wrote to go with the picture was about an orphan boy finding treasures in the trash.
“Any writer knows, and especially a writer of fiction, that things come out of your own life as well as places you’ve gone and things you’ve read,” Sanders said about the different possible uses for bicycle tubes that he had mentioned in the story.
“Trash” was followed by a story titled “Baby.” The picture for this story was one of a smiling baby sitting inside a metal bowl, and the story was told from a third person limited point of view instead of the first person point of view Sanders had used for the previous two stories.
The story after “Baby” was called “Horse,” and the picture for it showed a horse’s mane and side, with a man’s silhouette in shadow behind the horse, facing in the opposite direction. “Horse” was about a man dealing with the loss of his son, who was killed in a war. Sanders followed with a story called “Violin,” which was accompanied by a picture of a man playing a violin outside a cave. This story was followed by one for which Sanders did not provide a title. The story was accompanied by a picture of a man looking out from someone’s suit coat and was about a pastor in the South wrestling with the idea of segregation.
Sanders finished out the night with a story called “Sheep.” This was accompanied by a picture of sheep, taken from the view of someone looking up through the grass.
“For the writers in the room, this is told in the first person plural, which is what sheep would speak in,” Sanders said.
Sanders’ advice for the audience was to write in more than one style.
“I think it’s healthy for any author to have more than one literary mode … because not every experience is going to fit in the same shape,” he said.
Junior creative writing major Christian Blanco came to the reading because he said he felt it is his duty as an English major to come to every reading the school offers to support the speakers. His favorite story was “Sheep.”
“I really liked that last story, told from the first person plural in the sheep’s point of view,” Blanco said. “I thought that was funny.”
Senior creative writing major Mikaela Bielawski’s favorite story was “Topsy Turvey,” because the direction the story took was not what she expected. She also was intrigued by the idea Forbes and Sanders came up with for the book.
“I thought the overall thing about the picture, and the story generated from the picture, was really interesting,” Bielawski said.
The Kellogg Writers Series will continue next semester on March 7 in the Schwitzer Student Center at 7:30 p.m. with Indianapolis writer and filmmaker Alec Cizak.