By Christa Rodriguez || Assistant Campus Life Editor
On Tuesday, March 1, F&M’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House hosted a reading with Meghan Kenny, author and seventh grade English teacher at Lancaster Country Day School. The event took place in the Writers House Reading Room and was free and open to the public. Kenny acquired her BA in English and creative writing from Kenyon College, and her MFA in fiction from Boise State University. She is the recipient of the Iowa Review Award for her story “The Driest Season,” as well as Pushcart Prize Special Mention. Her novel was a finalist for the Dana Award. Kenny’s short stories have appeared in literary journals from The Cincinnati Review to The Kenyon Review, Hobart, and more. Kenny has been a Peter Taylor Fellow, a Tickner Writing Fellow, and a scholar at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. In addition to teaching at the Lancaster Country Day School, she teaches fiction for Gotham Writer’s Workshop online.
Director of the Writers House, Professor Kerry Sherin Wright, introduced Kenny and briefly described her life and accomplishments. Kenny has lived all over the world, including France, Japan, and Peru. Wright has read much of Kenny’s work and commented on how she writes mostly in scene and how she especially appreciates the endings of Kenny’s stories.
“I feel very surprised…the ending is always unexpected but absolutely perfectly right,” Wright remarked. “She writes exquisite fiction.”
Kenny’s most recent novel has yet to be published, but the author hopes that it will happen in approximately one year.
Kenny read a short story titled “Heartbreak Hotel” from her larger collection, Love Is No Small Thing. She read her short story aloud to the attendees, which included F&M students and community members. Before starting, she said that the story had its beginnings as a simple prompt during a writing workshop. The prompt was to write about two characters in a car and make them play a game. It also required that the story start in the present, go to a flashback moment, and bring it back to the present.
“Heartbreak Hotel” starts with a “getting to know you” game between a father and daughter that involves sharing heartbreaks. The pair are on a road trip, and the daughter, Lindsay, is in her 30s and starting over as a curator in Boise, Idaho. The story is written in the father’s perspective as he reflects on getting to know his daughter as an adult. He admires her for taking risks and following her dreams, something he never did.
His flashback recalls an encounter with a strange man when he was at a museum with Lindsay. In the present day, they run into that same man at a gas station and he refuses to leave their car. Pressed for time, they continue on with him. Lindsay reveals her heartbreak is her adventurous, but lonely life, and her desire to settle down. The odd man shows he is wise, and as he leaves, tells her how lucky she is. The story leaves with the question: “How many times do you get to start over in this life?”
A question and answer period followed the reading, which gave the audience further insight into Kenny’s story and writing process. One attendee pointed out that travel is a common theme in her stories. Kenny explained that she lived in Boise for seven years and drove across the country many times.
“I can’t write about a place until I’ve been out of it for many years,” she said.
According to Kenny, father-daughter relationships is also a common theme in her work, and she will often write from the male point of view.
When asked about her method for writing the story, she said she usually has a scene or character in mind before she places parts of herself into the story.
“I try to approach from a different perspective [otherwise, the story will feel] too close to home,” Kenny said.
She mostly writes about love, family, and relationships, all of which were represented in “Heartbreak Hotel.” Additionally, she usually bases her stories a bit on other stories she has read, which provide inspiration.
Organizationally, she noted, “I am not an outliner or planner when I write.”
Kenny said she started the story at the workshop in 2008, and actually did not finish it until 2011. According to Kenny, while her short stories may be more comedic and seem driven by the scenes and characters, her novel is mostly all scene, with little dialogue. It is also more serious and sedate. Commenting on “Heartbreak Hotel,” she described the message as being that, “life isn’t always what you want it to be,” and as with other stories by Kenny, she continues to write about searching for where one belongs in the world.
First-year Christa Rodriguez is the Assistant Campus Life Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.