Tuesday, Jan. 23, Elizabethtown College welcomed author Meghan Kenny and held two events which featured her: a writing workshop and a reading from her books.
Raised in Connecticut and New Hampshire, Kenny has lived in a variety of places. She spent a few years in Idaho and time in France and Peru. She is now living in Lancaster as a full-time teacher at the Lancaster Country Day School.
Kenny received her Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from Kenyon College, and her Master of Fine Arts in fiction from Boise State University. Kenny’s first book, a collection of short stories titled “Love Is No Small Thing,” was published by LSU press in March 2017.
Her first novel will be published by W.W. Norton in Feb. 2018. The novel is called “The Driest Season” and is an extension of a short story published in 2005, which bears the same name.
Unlike many of her other stories, “The Driest Season” has a close connection to Kenny. The novel is a speculative account of the summer experienced by her young grandmother after the unfortunately real experience of finding her father dead, having hanged himself, in the family barn.
Kenny was first driven to write the short story with the same title as the novel due to the family rumor that her great-grandfather ended his own life in his barn, and that his daughter had been the one to discover him.
Years later, however, it was the question of what this girl would have done next that drove Kenny to continuing the story until it reached its current state as a novel.
During the writing workshop held at the Bowers Writers House, Kenny shared that she enjoys writing from prompts and exercises, and above all, she drives her writing by asking, “What if?”
Writing prompts are valuable to Kenny, as they allow her to “get outside of” herself and write characters she otherwise never would have imagined.
Additionally, Kenny admitted that her life has largely lacked tragedies of any sort that create a good story, though she added that this was certainly not something to complain about.
An exercise Kenny gave to the group during the writing workshop required participants to first make several lists: mundane activities, tragic events, external conflicts and desires and lastly, internal conflicts and desires.
Kenny introduced a complication by handing each writer two magazine cut-outs. From these photographs, the writers were tasked to draw their characters and required to incorporate people from both clippings, which were often at odds with one another.
Lastly, Kenny passed out index cards, on which were written one line of text that was to be used as the opening line of the story. After some time for thought and drafting, participants in the workshop shared the elements of their story and their idea. The results were varied with plot features ranging from high school drama to terminal illness to the derailment of a train.
Kenny revealed to the group that the very exercise they had just done was actually the root of one of the short stories from her short story collection.
“All These Lovely Boys” recounts a father’s difficulty reconciling his son’s habit of cross-dressing with the boy he had raised since birth and gives an authentic look into the complicated nature of family.
“All These Lovely Boys” was the selection for the evening reading, which took place in the High Library. Beyond recreational cross-dressing, the son Kirk is a part of a skydiving troupe called the Flying Ballerinas, in which adult men perform an aerial show while garbed in fluffy white tutus and pointe shoes. The story’s protagonist is forced to face this fact directly when he is hired to film at an event at which the Ballerinas are performing.
Kenny also read an opening portion from “The Driest Season.” The novel begins with the shock of 16-year-old Cielle discovering her father in the barn, hanging and dead.
Cielle then works backwards for a bit, recounting scenes in a life of a “farmer who was allergic to everything” and as a result, suffered terrible chronic migraines, which made every moment miserable.
The novel is less concerned with working backwards, however, and moves on to explain Cielle’s following months, which are further complicated by the simultaneous occurrence of World War II.
Kenny’s novel, though not yet officially released, has already begun to receive praise by authors who have read the advance. The High Library possesses a copy of each of Kenny’s books.