‘Ahab’s Wife’ author to speak at symposium

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 24, 2013

SALISBURY — New York Times bestselling author Sena Jeter Naslund, who admits a contemporary, feminist sensibility, will be the featured speaker at Catawba College’s 27th annual Brady Author’s Symposium scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, March 21. The symposium will take place in Hedrick Theatre of the Robertson College-Community Center on campus.
Naslund is writer-in-residence and distinguished teaching professor at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. She is the author of six novels: “Sherlock in Love” (1993), “The Animal Way to Love” (1993), “Ahab’s Wife” (1999), “Four Spirits” (2003), “Abundance” (2006), “Adam and Eve” (2010); and two collections of stories: “Ice Skating at the North Pole” (1989) and “The Disobedience of Water” (1997). Her work has been published in numerous journals including The Iowa Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Paris Review, The Georgia Review, The Indiana Review and The Alaska Quarterly Review.
She has won the Harper Lee Award, the Lawrence Prize for fiction and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction Award. She served as Kentucky poet laureate 2005-2006 and founded The Louisville Review in 1976. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council.
Naslund grew up in Birmingham, Ala., the daughter of a physician father and a musician mother. In high school, she played cello with the Alabama Pops Orchestra and won a music scholarship to the University of Alabama, but declined it to study writing at Birmingham-Southern College.
After graduating from Birmingham-Southern, Naslund was accepted at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in creative writing. She was a visiting professor in the MFA program at the University of Montana before accepting a teaching position at the University of Louisville. She has also taught at the Indiana University (Bloomington), Vermont College, and the University of Montevallo, where she held the Paschal P. Vacca Chair of Liberal Arts. She has also been the visiting eminent scholar at the University of Alabama.
Naslund is a master of narratives, from science fiction and futuristic in “Adam & Eve” to historical and literary in “Ahab’s Wife” and “Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette.” Recent history has also drawn her attention. In “Four Spirits,” real people and fictional characters tell the story of the civil rights struggle in Naslund’s hometown of Birmingham in the early 1960s.
How she conjures topics for her novels is as interesting as the topics themselves. While on a book tour for “Ahab’s Wife,” she stayed in a bed-and-breakfast in Darien, Ga., and in her room, she found a 1930s Stefan Zweig biography titled “Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman.” As she read it, Naslund recalls “protesting Zweig’s view of Marie Antoinette as a shallow, totally untalented, ‘ordinary’ woman.” Instead, in Marie Antoinette’s story, she saw a cautionary tale about “the vulnerable human condition.” Almost as a counterpoint to Zweig’s portrayal, she wrote her own story about Marie Antoinette as a tragic heroine who was anything but ordinary.
In an October 1999, NYTimes.com book review of “Ahab’s Wife,” writer Stacey D’Erasmo marvels at Naslund’s ability to take “less than a paragraph’s worth of references to the captain’s young wife from Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ and fashion from this slender rib not only a woman but an entire world.” D’Erasmo reports that Naslund’s protagonist, Una, is, “undaunted by convention” and the same might be said of Naslund.
Naslund, who lives in Louisville, Ky., is married to John C. Morrison, a theoretical atomic physicist and coauthor of “Many-Body Electron Theory.” She has an adult daughter, Flora Naslund.
Naslund will join an impressive group of authors who have spoken at previous Brady Author’s Symposia, including Reynolds Price, Doris Betts, Lee Smith, Kay Gibbons, Fred Chappell, Robert Inman, Jan Karon, John Berendt, Pat Conroy, Terry Kay, Gail Godwin, Ann Hood, Tim McLaurin, Frances Mayes, Rick Bragg, Susan Vreeland, Jodi Picoult, Gish Jen, Joanne Harris, Chris Bohjalian, Elizabeth Berg, Colum McCann and Jane Hamilton.
Tickets are now available through the Catawba College Public Relations Office at 704-637-4393. Symposium events include a lecture ($20), luncheon ($20), book signing (free), and an exclusive writing question and answer session ($10), all of which will take place in the Robertson College-Community Center on campus.
Lecture — 11 a.m., Hedrick Theatre, Robertson College-Community Center.
Seated luncheon — 12:15 p.m., Peeler Crystal Lounge. Luncheon reservations are limited and will be taken in the order in which they are received.
Book signing — 1:15 p.m., lobby of Keppel Auditorium
Exclusive writing Q&A — 2 p.m., Hedrick Theatre.