On Monday night, novelist Charles Boyer, a recipient of the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA) New Writers Award, was bashful when acknowledging his accomplishment: “I heard about this award when I first started writing, and after I won I looked up some of the recipients — Alice Monroe, Ford — and I thought, ‘Oh, wow, they must have made a mistake!’”
Two of the New Writers Award winners read from selected works at Finn House on Monday night. Poet and memoirist Randall Horton read from his piece Hook: A Memoir, which depicts his experiences with incarceration, homelessness and marginalization in America, and Boyer read from his novel History’s Child, a mix of poetry and prose about the life of a child in Poland during World War II.
Boyer’s book was inspired by the life of his wife’s father, and his experience as a child working for the Home Army against Stalin in Eastern Poland. He was fascinated after visiting his stepfather’s village. It contained so much history, from 40-year-old bullet holes in the walls to conspicuous artifacts, like the saber his wife found, hidden during the Napoleonic wars.
Boyer was also struck by how the community resembled his own small hometown in Alabama. The stories of his father-in-law’s childhood reminded him so much of his own. From there he was able to create a character from his own experience, his stepfather’s story and historical research. The images he created are striking in their simplicity, vignettes that feel personal even if they are unfamiliar to the audience.
Horton began writing when he was sentenced to 15 years of prison and participated in a program that asked inmates to write essays about their experiences. While his memoir reflects his previous work with poetry, his first independent writing was fiction, which he began after one of the program’s instructors encouraged him to continue writing. Since finding a way to capture his experiences, he now has multiple correspondences with inmates who have influenced his writing and helped him create a place to reflect upon his memories. Horton is an associate professor of English at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Horton’s style felt as charged as his content, his reading full of energy and feeling.
Ely Peteet ’21, who attended the event, found Horton’s words powerful. “It makes his works flexible to emotion and the inner workings of a single person, which made the stories fresh and vivid,” he said.
Kenyon was a stop on Boyer and Horton’s GCLA tour; they have already visited Denison University and Albion College. The award is celebrating its 45th anniversary. “Writing puts mind and body together in a very healing way,” Horton said, reflecting on the evening.