Alcestis Books Graduate school Historical fiction

‘Alcestis’ in the academy

Last Thursday I did my first author visit. My dissertation director is teaching Alcestis in one of his courses this fall, which has led to a lot of delightful things — seeing the book get linked to Robinson Crusoe and The Tempest on Amazon, first of all, when a number of his students bought them together. We did a Q&A and they had great, insightful questions. (Lance is an amazing teacher and they are obviously careful readers.) They’d read the novel just after reading the Odyssey — how’s that for pressure? I didn’t ask them how the two compared. But we did talk about books that inspired the novel, about what Admetus really feels when Alcestis stood up at the banquet table, why Hades reacts the way he does to Persephone’s interest in Alcestis, and why Hermes has a tattered cloak. On that last question I had to resort to the frustrating artistic answer and admit that he just does.

It felt a little weird, honestly, to be in a literature classroom as a writer and a source of information about my writing. As a creative writing teacher, of course, I’ve talked about my writing, but in that case I’m usually talking with students as fellow writers. Normally when I’m in a classroom discussing books with students my role is not to impose my viewpoint, though of course I have topics I’d like address and readings that I consider more or less valid depending on the textual evidence. But this time I was there as Author, complete with Intentions. And I was definitely not dead (though I was a little migrainey).

Lance also tells me that some students in the class may be writing papers on the novel. It’s probably my years of academic conditioning talking, but I find that ridiculously exciting, and also kind of reassuring. As delighted as I was to answer questions about what I was thinking while I wrote the book, I’m glad they’ll be developing their own interpretations of it, too.


  1. Just to comment, I am one of the students from Professor Bertelsen’s class who will be writing a paper concerning your novel. I find that writing on Alcestis is a little more unique (and possibly more fun) than writing about The Odyssey, which I have studied before. I appreciated your recent classroom visit and found your words very insightful to the writing process.

  2. Vishal, thanks for your comment — I enjoyed visiting your class very much and I’m very happy to know that you’ll be writing about the book. I admit to being very curious about what topics you and your classmates might address in your papers!

  3. It must have been so rewarding/satisfying/strange to discuss your book in class! But on the matter of the tattered cloak, I think you should have just looked thoughtful and asked, “Why do YOU think it’s tattered?” Then, if someone gives a particularly good explanation, you could claim that was exactly what you were thinking when you wrote it. 🙂

  4. Laura, I totally did the “well, what did you all think when you discussed this?” thing! (Also because I was really curious.) Maybe not for this question, because it was actually my dissertation director asking — he wanted to know if it was something I’d intentionally chosen for symbolic reasons or whether it had appeared organically while I was writing (it was the second). But yeah, always a good strategy!

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