Characters as confidants

Courtesy Photo / Kelsey Parker
Kelsey Parkers book For Sale By Owner

Courtesy Photo / Kelsey Parker Kelsey Parker’s book “For Sale By Owner”

Rebekah Young

For author and English professor Kelcey Parker, becoming a good writer is much like competing on American Idol.

“It’s important for young writers to develop their own artistic identity — to begin to assess their particular interests and styles, strengths and weaknesses and, as with singing, to find their voice,” she said.

With the publication of her book “For Sale By Owner,” a collection of 14 diverse and creative short stories about family, friends and life, Parker has found her proverbial voice.

As a writer of fiction, nonfiction and what she jokingly refers to as “non-poetry,” Parker demonstrates great honesty, insight and imagination. As part of Grand Valley State University’s Writers Series, she will share her unique voice during a reading session today at 1 p.m. in the GVSU Alumni House.

“The purpose of the series is to expose undergraduates to sharp, literary thinkers and their craft,” said Austin Bunn, writing professor and coordinator of the Writers Series. “She brings a fresh voice and spark to the GVWS. Her stories have strong premises and distinct voices – in one, a woman gives up her family for Lent – and I think students will respond to their originality,”

Parker, who received a doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati, serves as the current director of the creative writing program at Indiana University South Bend. To share her knowledge and experience, she will also give a craft talk at 4 p.m. today in Room 136 in Lake Superior Hall.

During the craft talk, Parker will discuss creating layers in stories with similes and metaphors. She will offer examples and exercises to help students learn how to turn basic descriptions into rich expressions of a story’s theme.

During the second half of the workshop, Bunn said Parker will read student work and give feedback.

“It’s a tremendous chance to hear a unique perspective and new aesthetic vocabulary from an established writer,” he said.

Parker’s love for reading and writing first stemmed from living in a family that was constantly uprooted by her father’s job at the manufacturing corporation Procter & Gamble. Growing up, she attended six different elementary schools.

As a result, Parker said book characters became her constant friends. For her, Encyclopedia Brown, Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls, Scout Finch and Huckleberry Finn were her closest confidants. As a child, she would even write notes and letters to her literary companions.

“Moving every year and developing friendships with book characters doesn’t do much for one’s social skills,” she said. “I found that I expressed myself much better through writing than talking.”

During her freshman year in college, she took a 20th century British literature course. It was the first time she had read such celebrated authors like Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and Joseph Conrad. After that, Parker said there was no turning back. She was hooked.

“I love the act of creating — of generating material, shaping phrases, arranging segments and creating something meaningful,” Parker said. “After a long night of writing, I sometimes look at my hands expecting to see something like dried paint or clay residue. After all that hard work, there should be some physical evidence.”

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