Section: Arts

Ranson Riggs ’01 haunts Rosse with photographs, storytelling

Ranson Riggs ’01 haunts Rosse with photographs, storytelling

by Victoria Ungvarsky

When Ransom Riggs ’01 was invited back to Kenyon to speak, he had one major concern: “I wondered if they called me back because I failed comps,” Riggs joked to a packed Rosse Hall on Tuesday. Rather than re-defending his senior exercise in English, Riggs returned to the Hill to talk about his Kenyon experience and path to becoming a New York Times bestselling author.

The event was entitled “A Peculiar Night with Ransom Riggs,” paying homage to his book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The young adult novel transcends the usual conventions of the genre by seamlessly blending haunting fantasy with realistic fiction. Although his interest in telling fantasy stories began with reading C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, Riggs asserted that his strength as a writer of realistic fiction came from Kenyon.

Riggs spoke openly and earnestly of his time at Kenyon, specifically citing his challenging Introduction to Fiction class with P.F. Kluge as one of his greatest influences. “I feel so intimidated,” Riggs read from his college journal. He then broke into smile, “And I underlined that three times.” Thirteen years after Riggs’s graduation, Kluge introduced Riggs, praising his work as both an undergraduate and an author.
Riggs is an exceptional storyteller, and as he recounted his time in film school and writing the Sherlock Holmes Handbook, he had the audience laughing. The audience particularly loved the description of his first screenplay, a fantasy mystery film set at an old college on a hill. “It had a snake-handling pastor on the other side of the Kokosing,” Riggs said, grinning as he continued to recount how the pastor attempted to stop ghosts from infiltrating Knox County. As with much of Riggs’s work, it was equal parts hilarious and horrifying.

Perhaps nothing fits this description more than Riggs’s discussion of his photography collection — the final inspiration for his most famous novel.
He collected his first old photograph at a yard sale with his grandmother when he was 10, because the girl in the photograph resembled one of his summer camp crushes.
“I kept it on my night stand for about four months,” Riggs said. On a PowerPoint, Riggs showed the old wrinkled and discolored photograph of a smiling girl. Only when he removed the paper frame around it did he see the message scrawled on the back. “It said, ‘Dorothy. Chicago. Age 15. Died of leukemia,’” Riggs said. He took the audience through his collection of photographs, some jubilant and sweet, others somber and sad. All of these photos were lost, without an owner. That is, until Riggs collected thousands of them.
Although over a dozen years have passed since his graduation, Riggs still has all the markings of a Kenyon student. He’s intelligent, imaginative and still loves a good ghost story.


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