Friday, July 10, 2009

Being the "Rebound Boyfriend" Book

On June 25, I had the great honor and pleasure of visiting the Mental Health and Contemporary Fiction class at Wright State University. My novel
The Kindness of Strangers is on the syllabus.

The class is just the kind of interesting combination I love. Here’s the official description:

This class will include an intensive study and discussion of contemporary fiction in relation to specific mental health disorders, such as substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia and others. Through the lens of contemporary fiction the class will revolve around discussions of the disorders, their symptoms, how they are portrayed (or not) through specific characters, how they’re diagnosed, the positives and negatives of such classifications, the prevalence of disorders in contemporary literature, and what this says about our society as a whole.

The class is taught by two of the most dynamic, energetic, funny women ever—Erin Flanagan from the English Department and Sarah Twill from the Department of Social Work. Seriously, these women are great. At a pre-class dinner at Jeet (yum, thank you, thank you) we discovered we were kindred spirits in that we wish we were the sort of women who liked yoga, but all three of us have tried it and it just ain’t our thing!). They baked homemade cookies for the class (and not just when a guest is coming)! Don’t you wish all your professors were like that?

This is the third time Erin and Sarah have taught my novel and the second time I’ve visited the class. The Kindness of Strangers is in really good, flattering company. This summer the class is also reading Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard, The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold, The Bright Forever by Lee Martin and short stories by Dan Chaon, Madison Smartt Bell, Jhumpa Lahiri, Adam Haslett, and ZZ Packer.

Going to visit the class was fantastic. A mix of English majors, education majors, and social workers, the group had insightful questions and comments. I thoroughly enjoyed myself (and the homemade cookies).

If that weren’t good enough for my ego, get this: my novel is always taught in the second week of the course. Erin and Sarah told me that they call the week three book the “rebound boyfriend.” Erin said, “No matter how much we hope students are going to like it, they’re still so in love with the Kittle novel the relationship doesn’t stand a chance.” Hee hee hee! Music to my ears. My head is swelling and swelling....

But, some very touching reports keep me from getting too fat a head. This group of people remind me why I wrote this novel in the first place. My book is scheduled in the second week to pair it with a service learning project. Twenty-three students completed the Stewards of Children training through CARE House, so they will have the ripple effect of helping to protect hundreds of children. When I hope a story of mine will have a lasting impact, this is exactly the sort of thing I wish for! Students also go out into the community and ask for board book donations for CARE House. Last year they collected over 500 books! Many of the students in this class will help (or are already helping) real children who face abuse like my fictional Jordan. I’m full of thanks and admiration for the important work they do.

I thank Erin and Sarah for a wonderful evening, the students for their inspiration, and Sarah F. for taking the photos!

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