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Prof. Hoover ruminates on dark themes in upcoming publication

By Alana Hodson

Section: Arts

January 29, 2016

Brandeis University is renowned for its extraordinary staff and high quality of education in nearly all areas of the liberal arts.

The literature department is certainly no exception to Brandeis’ theme of excellency in staff, and is fortunate to have Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence Michelle Hoover imparting her knowledge and experience on the budding authors here. Hoover is an acclaimed author herself, having published two novels already, “The Quickening” and “Bottomland,” and is currently working on her third. Hoover has also co-founded a program called the GrubStreet Novel Incubator Program, designed to provide highly individualized instruction and support to upcoming authors aiming to get their books out on the shelves.

Being the head of the GrubStreet Novel Incubator Program is a special role for Hoover, as she is able to work closely with students to provide them with the chance to really develop their novels. “I consider the novel the perfect form, but most undergraduate and graduate programs in fiction can’t handle it,” said Hoover, “so we started our program for people who didn’t have opportunities elsewhere, either to study writing a novel or to study writing at all.” This program accepts only 10 students per year, and the student then must submit a full manuscript in order to get in. However, once accepted, the student’s full draft is workshopped twice during the year, they’re provided help with an additional 155 pages, the students aid each other through various media platforms and there are also craft lessons and novel studies. Soon to reach 60 members, this program’s alumni network is growing strong, making GrubStreet a powerful resource for the next generation of great novelists.

Hoover’s experience as an instructor at Brandeis has also been greatly rewarding for her as well. As Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence, Hoover teaches workshops in fiction and nonfiction and also gets to work with thesis students on more complex topics, “and working one-on-one with students on longer works is something I cherish,” said Hoover. “The students here are so bright and motivated and tend to have extremely creative answers to prompts and assignments. There’s a lot of talent, and it’s great to be a part of.”

Her newest publication, “Bottomland,” which comes out in March, has proved to be one of her most ambitious novels to date due to its intricate narrative featuring five different first-person points of view. However, this novel was also easier for her in many ways. “Because I’d been teaching novel writing, I knew better how to identify problems and I knew the tricks for fixing them. I also knew I could fix them, but that doesn’t make the act of doing so that much easier,” said Hoover.

“Bottomland” is a novel set in Iowa during the years after World War I, following the Hess family as they deal with the sudden disappearances of the two youngest daughters. The story was based off her own family history which she had come across while visiting family in California. On her website, Hoover describes the real story behind “Bottomland,” explaining how an old family photograph set the wheels turning for the novel. “When I started the novel, I had only this letter, the photograph and a vague idea of what might have happened … but I already knew the story, or at least I knew the story that I wanted to tell.”

In addition to leading the Novel Incubator program and being writer-in-residence here at Brandeis, Michelle Hoover has been a MacDowell Fellow, a 2014 NEA Fellow, winner of the PEN/New England Discovery Award and winner of the 2010 Massachusetts Book Award “Must Read” for her first novel, “The Quickening.” Her extensive experience as an instructor and writer expands across many great institutions, such as running undergraduate and graduate writing workshops at Wellesley College, Emerson College, Smith College and many more. She has also taught writing at Boston University for more than 10 years and has been the writer-in-residence at Bucknell University. Hoover is an Iowa native and currently resides in Boston. For those interested in gaining more insight into both fiction and nonfiction writing, Hoover will be holding a reading in Pearlman Lounge on March 2.

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