Single Voice Reading: Oderman and Pritchard

By RACHEL BELSON

Contributing writer

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Sara Pritchard and Kevin Oderman visited Allegheny College from West Virginia on Oct. 8 to perform single voice readings of their various literary works. The married couple and successful writers read from works spanning across their careers and genres. Both speakers have received national attention for their work.

Pritchard is the author of New York Times Notable Book of the Year, “Crackpots,” which received national attention and won the Bakeless Prize for Fiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2003. She specializes in creative writing, and focuses predominantly on literary essays, travel and novels. She read from her latest collection, “Help Wanted: Female,” which was just published this July, at the event.

Oderman is an essayist, a fiction writer and a nonfiction writer who has published two novels since winning the Bakeless Prize in Nonfiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He is currently working on a book of travel essays and enjoys dabbling in photography.  Academically he focuses on modern and early postmodern American poetry and is a professor at West Virginia University.

Oderman has a connection to Allegheny through his personal relationship with assistant professor of English, Matthew Ferrence. The two professors studied together when Ferrence attended West Virginia University where he got his Ph.D.

“Their aesthetics, as writers, are really different from one another. Kevin could be best described as fair, and Sara is sort of on the other side of the spectrum so they end up being a really interesting pairing because they cover a wide register of voice on the page in fiction,” Ferrence said of the two authors.

Ferrence said Oderman is very influential as an essayist and he finds his writing unique and structurally fascinating.

“The thing with these readings is that it’s great to see contemporary working writers who are active and are doing things, and they’re not in a book, you know, they’re in front of you,” Ferrence said.  He continued to say, “I think for these writers, in particular, thinking about the divergence of their style, what they can draw from it is we all have to develop our own kind of voice print in our prose or our poetry; and they give you a great notion of how many options are out there.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of English Kate McIntyre, who read her own works at a Single Voice Reading in September, said that Pritchard’s more recent collection is really interesting because all of the stories are interconnected.

“What I find really intriguing about the collection is that characters pop up again and again from story to story. The collection covers maybe a fifty year span, so you will meet a character in his or her youth, then they’ll pop up in another story,” McIntyre said.

Not only are the stories well developed and integrated with one another, but according to McIntyre, all of the stories have strong, richly developed characters. Pritchard also uses unique point of views as the center for her stories, such as a story held from the viewpoint of a dog.

Her writing uses “sharp and pointed humor” according to McIntyre to cover very serious topics. McIntyre also commented on the choice to combine the two authors for one reading given that they have two distinct and contrasting writing styles.

“It will be great for the students to see these two styles in contrast,” McIntyre said.

Pritchard read from her novel “Help Wanted: Female,” choosing the beginning of Part I as the piece she would read. The excerpt she read starts with Wendy, a young woman who is looking at help wanted ads. She had been out of work and had taken interest in a word processing job after quitting her last job.  Wendy has had many jobs and seems to be unable to hold a steady job. She is hired for the word processing job because she was “an excellent typist.” One day, she is called into her boss’s office, who’s called Little Big Man, and instead of reprimanding her as she expected, he makes suggestive comments and tries to coerce her into some kind of relationship.

Oderman read from several of his works.  His first reading was from his nonfiction piece before he read from his popular book, “White Vespa.” The book tells the story of an American exile who, in an attempt to overcome his grief and mourning for his son, delves into photographing the Dodecanese Islands in Greece. Ultimately, through friendship and later romance with a woman battling her own loss, he finds a revived love of life and a sense of identity.

Oderman explained that he wanted to read the first passage of his novel because the reader was unaware what the novel was about, and the beginning is really what provides all the background information for the reader.  He did not want to give away the plot line, rather, he wanted the audience to walk away with a sample of the story.

“It means a lot to meet the readers and to feel a connection with the audience,” Oderman said.  He hoped that the students will understand how to deal and come to terms with the turmoil of their childhoods.

In an interview with Pritchard, she explained that she chose her reading because a gentleman in the class for the Q&A said he liked the novel, “Help Wanted: Female,” so she decided she would read from that.

“It also had a good stopping point and is the title story for the book.  Everything else kind of spins around it,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard was very enthusiastic about the single voice reading, both to share her work and to engage with students. She hoped that the students would be inspired to write after hearing her readings. She also thoroughly enjoyed her time on campus.

 “I love your school; I love your campus; I love the macaroni and cheese,” Pritchard said.