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April 11, 2011

Kate Christensen Gives Major Credit to Minor Characters

Latest Author in Walt Whitman Writers Series

As an homage to the forgotten and seldom talked about minor characters in novels, speaker Kate Christensen (2008 PEN/Faulkner Award winner), read three scenes from her various books as the latest speaker in the Walt Whitman Writers Series as St. Francis College on April 11.

Christensen began the reading with a scene from The Epicure's Lament in which her character Hugo meets the hit man who failed to kill him twenty years before. She said the hit man is a sort of ghost of Christmas past, which helps her push her story forward without using flashbacks in the narrative. Christensen followed with a scene from The Great Man, in which a widow speaks to her husband's former best friend, who is essentially a reincarnation of the hit man. Finally, Christensen gave a preview of her new novel, The Astral, about an everyman poet displaced by an irrationally jealous wife from his home of thirty years in the legendary, sprawling Astral Apartments in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The Astral goes on sale June 14. (Watch the entire reading)


During the question and answer session, Christensen went into more detail about her approach to flashbacks. "I feel that there's a forward momentum in the book that has to be maintained by the writer," said Christensen, who admits to using them sparingly. "A book is like an arrow -- you shoot it out at the beginning of the narrative, and it should just fly entirely through the novel." (Watch an extended interview)

A question about an autistic character in The Great Man led Christensen to talk about her cousin with autism and her desire to build a relationship with him. "I had heard that autistic people can understand what you're saying even if they can't respond to it," she said. "We were the same age and I felt, this is my cousin, and I want to know him." Ethan's behaviors are based on her cousin, but she adds, "the mystery is so profound and you do project a lot, and who knows if it's right or wrong."

In addition to her six novels, Christensen is a prolific writer whose reviews and essays have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Tin House and Elle.

Kate Christensen is the fifth speaker in the Walt Whitman Writers Series which brings top contemporary authors to St. Francis to share their work and writing experiences with students, faculty and the entire Brooklyn community. Previous authors include Julie Orringer, Jonathan Lethem, Darcey Steinke, and Rick Moody. The series is organized by St. Francis College English Professors Ian Maloney and Athena Devlin.

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.
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