Former Writer-in-Residence Sabina Murray Returns for Reading

Students and faculty listened to stories of Mary Kingsley’s adventures in Africa in a reading of historical-fiction by Sabina Murray, former Writer-in-Residence and Instructor in English, last Friday. Murray read four excerpts from her story “Fish,” a historical fiction piece about Mary Kingsley, a famous English explorer who lived in the late 1800s, to a crowd that filled the Freeman room of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL). Murray’s reading exhibited her detail-oriented prose, as she strung the excerpts together with bits of explanation and insight into the truth behind the story. Murray also engaged her audience with jokes and questions. The four excerpts focused on different parts of Mary Kingsley’s life and explorations, beginning with a story about her childhood, then moving to Kingsley’s explorations in Africa. “I also think it’s one of the more accessible stories in terms of structure, and it seems to be one that people take as their favorite story. I also like that it showcases a strong woman character, which I think is hard to do in explorer fiction,” said Murray. Kevin O’Connor, Instructor in English, who arranged the event, said, “I think it’s a great story; it’s the signature story of that book. There are a lot of good stories in the book, and I think that’s one of the strongest.” “She had to stitch it together to make it coherent. Given the length of that narrative, I think she did a really good job of giving the audience a sense of that woman,” continued O’Connor. Explorers were the major inspiration for the book from which Murray read. Murray said that she used non-fiction sources to research the explorers and read two to three books of background information for each story. “When we compare two civilizations, we think of ourselves as the dominant group, whatever group you’re in and then when you encounter a group that’s very different, I’m always interested in what kind of interactions come together with that,” said Murray of her inspirations. Murray spent about five years working on the book, during and after her time at Andover. “A lot of the little stories come out of a novel of mine called ‘A Carnivorous Inquiry,’ which I did write at Andover and didn’t end up in the novel so I saved them for this book, so there actually is quite a bit of that book that was conceived of, written and even researched in the [OWHL],” said Murray. Andover’s Writer-in-Residency is an endowed chair that involves teaching fiction and poetry classes while providing time for the author to write. Murray was the writer in residence at Andover from 2000 to 2003. Murray enjoyed her time at Andover. “I really enjoyed teaching people of this age. They were eager to learn about what writing could do for them and what writing meant. They were operating from a very optimistic point of view, and that made it really great,” said Murray. Murray’s time at Andover was also productive for her writing. Murray published one book while writer in residence and wrote and sold another. “You’re supposed to engage students in what it is to be a writer and just to show them what a writerly life is like, so I didn’t really have any other duties except to show up and teach my classes and to be available to answer questions, so it was really a lovely job,” said Murray. The program allowed Murray to explore new ideas in her work. “[The program] really just encourages you to explore what you need to do professionally. The idea is that if you’re a flourishing as a professional, that students who encounter you are going to be inspired by that, so it’s showcasing what the career can be,” said Murray. Lewis Robinson, current Writer in Residence and Instructor in English, taught “Fish” in his class. “It’s fantastic for them to get to hear it aloud and it’s nice to get from [Murray] a lot of perspective about Mary as a character,” said Robinson. O’Connor was pleased with the outcome. “I think it was well worth it. The story really is a masterpiece,” said O’Connor. Murray was also happy with how the event went. “I was really pleased that there were this many people here, I wasn’t expecting there to be this many and it was really a good, attentive crowd,” said Murray.