Background information: I attended Fall For The Book on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006. The speaker was Geraldine Brooks; she gave her presentation at 6:00PM EDT.
From the Fall For The Book Pamphlet, Brooksâ€™ description reads: Former correspondent in Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, won the latest Pulitzer in fiction for her novel, March, inspired by Louisa May Alcottâ€™s Little Women.
The layout of this blog post is to capture my entire experience at the Fall For The Book Event and not just the speaker talking about her novel.
Since I had not known anything about the author, I was geared up to expect what was written about her from the pamphlet.
When attending the 6:00PM Fall For The Book Event, one of the assistants for The Center for The Arts exclaimed there were a lot of people for this talk, â€œwowâ€ she said. Looking around me, all of the seats are taken before the speaker arrived. From the loud conversation beforehand, it was a very lively crowd.
At 6:09PM, I was wondering when the event would start, was the speaker late? Did she cancel?
Then at 6:10PM, the Fall For The Book organizer spoke for three minutes regarding the events that would be taking place for the following two days. It did seem to be a very popular event with possible press members snapping photos as I saw the light from the flash of their cameras.
At 6:13PM, Madeline, a professor at GMU took to the podium. It was her job to introduce Geraldine Brooks. She mentioned that Brooks began as a journalist and provided some basic background information. She mentioned that Brooks authored Nine Parts of Desire which outlined Islamic women and how they lived in the Middle East. Then she continued to explain in one book she wrote about a town in 1666 that had succumbed to a plague and isolated themselves from the rest of the world. Unfortunately the plague had turned in on itself and killed everyone in the village but Brooks was â€œable to leave us with a sense of optimism at the end of the novel.â€ This must be pretty impressive if you can take a novel where everyone dies from a plague and make the end seem optimistic. She then outlines what Brooks is going to talk about; in her book, March, Brooks writes about the absent father from Little Women. It is dated in the 1800s, an imagined character fighting in the Civil War.
At 6:16PM, Brooks took the stage with a round of applause even before she began to speak. She mentioned that she married to Tony Holwitz, who liked to write about the civil war. They both worked overseas, Sydney, Cairo, to name a couple places. They later moved to Waterford VA, population 250 people. Her husband was in ecstasy as there were hundreds of Civil War events and history in the surrounding areas. Her husband was more concerned about the Civil War than going to music concerts, she noted. She also stated that Little Women may have been one of the first novels to write about the Civil War. Brooks connected to Tonyâ€™s interests by understanding the men in the Civil War, understanding their emotions and how they felt. She mentioned that the people of Waterford, VA were the only members to fight in the union during the Civil War. For her book, she wanted to draw on the main character, the man who had so little written about him in Little Women. She mentions that March became something that just â€œhappened.â€ She had been writing a piece that had to do with Hebrew manuscripts, but as soon as she went to the Civil War archives and found information about men in the Civil War, she soon embarked on writing March.
Around 6:25PM, she mentions that she likes to write with a first person narrator. For her first book, there is a girl who is the main character. Her dialect and dialogue was everything she had learned or picked up from Sunday at church. She did not want to use old, ancient dialect because â€œthen nobody would read it.â€ During this time period she became hooked on 17th century abuse between couples, she said it was much worse than it is today and that rappers have no idea what it used to be like.
Around 6:28PM, she reads a passage from her book, by 6:35PM she is finished. She gave a description about a man from Connecticut who was considered a Yankee that then headed south. When she read her work, it was clearly seen that she spent a lot of time choosing exquisite vocabulary for almost every sentence. Most of the words she was reading I had never heard before or were not used in everyday conversation. Also apparent was her European or Australian accent, especially when she was reading her own work. When describing the characters in the passage she read, she included a lot of details describing the physicality of her characters, but she did not go overboard with description. It seemed to be â€œjust right.â€
At 6:35PM, she finished her passage. She mentions that the author of Little Women wrote the book for her publisher and that â€œit really did not come from herself.â€ Her favorite thing she said about the author of Little Women is one of her stories where she takes hash and runs off with a young man she does not know. Brooks states that she could re-title the story for that woman to â€œjust say yes.â€
At 6:37PM, she took questions. She mentioned she liked practical idealists as they moved society forward. The rest of us catch up and society moves forward. She wanted to show both sides of the man in her book, March. Having not read this book, I think the discussion left me slightly disconnected during the question and answer session. This is because other than the previous detail and background provided; I had no idea what she was talking about in regards to the bookâ€™s content. She continued by saying she wrote about was not from history per se but from a lot of her own, personal investigation. She mentions the soldiers came back from Iraq; it was hard for their wives to open a line of communication to the men, their husbands, who had been deployed to Iraq.
At 6:42PM, someone asked her what made her change her focus from being a journalist to a fiction writer? This was one of the most interesting points the whole night. She stated out saying it had to do with the Nigerian Secret Police. She explained that Shell polluted the Nigerian delta with oil spills from thirty-five years ago. The farmers then protested because it ruined their crops. Shell called on the dictatorship to kill the peasants. She went to the military in Port Anchor for an interview to get the real story. This is when they threw her in jail. They thought she was a French Spy. She thought about how other journalists spent nearly seven years and she was very afraid. When they let her out after three days she was back in the states and she was extremely excited to see her husband, she got pregnant and she had a son the following year.
Around 6:4PM, there was a question relating to her book Foreign Correspondence. Basically, it was about how she grew up and wrote to pen pals around the world. Through travel and adventure, she learned about putting together a narrative. She won an Australian prize which paid her $20,000; this seemed to shift her focus to fiction writing in my opinion. So she went for her, despite the worries she had writing fiction.
The final question was asked at 6:48PM regarding what she was working on now. She said sheâ€™s working on another historic novel about Sarajevo and a historic manuscript that was lost, or hidden in 1350. She became introduced with medieval Jewish art. She mentioned a short story that a German came looking for the book; however, the custodian at the library did not give him the book and hid it in his pants instead. She ended on a note that someone had wanted to adapt one of her novels into a playwright to be acted out. She was nervous at first; she said â€œmy head exploded.â€ However, it was later adapted successfully and she was happy with how it turned out.
The event concluded at 6:52PM.