Author Jane Hamilton meets with students, gives public reading

Meghan McCallum

Thursday, Jan. 11 author Jane Hamilton visited the Lawrence campus, making public and private appearances with Lawrence students and staff as well as members of the Appleton community.
Hamilton spent lunch in Downer’s Barber Room with Assistant Professor of English David McGlynn’s Contemporary American Fiction class. In this informal meeting, the group discussed with Hamilton books they had recently read as well as their English studies at Lawrence.
Following lunch, Hamilton took part in a question and answer session in Main Hall with McGlynn’s class as well as other Lawrence English faculty and students.
McGlynn introduced Hamilton, saying, “One of the reasons it is such a pleasure to have Ms. Hamilton with us is because in addition to being a successful novelist, she is also a Wisconsin local . [she] has for many years lived in southeastern Wisconsin.”
The session included discussion of her novel “Disobedience,” which the class had recently read, as well as the writing process and Hamilton’s career in general.
Hamilton said that similar to the limited amount of creative writing-oriented classes at Lawrence, her choices during her studies at Carleton College were Crafts of Writing 1 and Crafts of Writing 2.
As is evident from her success, neither the lack of a specific creative writing program at Carleton nor rejections from graduate schools were detrimental to her career.
“I was standing in the English department basement getting gum out of a vending machine and I heard this voice from the third floor drifting down; [my professor] was telling somebody that I would write a novel someday,” she told the group.
At that point, Hamilton said, she hadn’t written anything longer than a 10-page short story.
While in college, Hamilton said, she aspired to have a story published in The New Yorker. However, it was Harper’s Magazine that called Hamilton on her 25th birthday expressing that they wanted to publish her work.
“I had an editor there who really loved working with young writers,” she said of her experience with the magazine.
Hamilton told the group that “Disobedience” – which treats issues of infidelity and family life – was inspired by a number of sources, one being a quote from Willa Cather discussing family dynamics.
She also recited A. A. Milne’s poem of the same title, which she said led her to think of some of the novel’s main themes.
Other work behind the novel included extensive research on the American Civil War, of which one character is a reenactor, and time spent listening to Nirvana, the narrator’s favorite band.
At a public reading held later Thursday night in Harper Hall, Hamilton captivated her audience with personal anecdotes as well as her short story “The Major Work of the Tink”.
She also praised The Lawrentian, to which she has a subscription, saying that she and her husband enjoy reading it so much that they often fight over who gets to read it first.
Following the reading, Hamilton stayed behind to sign books for her readers.
Hamilton is the author of five novels, of which two were selections of the Oprah Book Club. She has won the PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel for “The Book of Ruth” and the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for “The Short History of a Prince.”
Her latest work, “When Madeline Was Young,” was published in 2006.