The write stuff: English faculty share new works

Instructors' books win recognition in and outside Exeter community.

By
Sarah Pruitt '95
April 15, 2022

English Instructor Todd Hearon reads from one of his two new books.

Three faculty members in the English Department read from their latest works of prose and poetry Tuesday night in the Actor's Lab of the Goel Center for Theater and Dance.

After an introduction by Beth Rohloff, associate director of the Class of 1945 Library, Todd Hearon kicked off the evening. “If it’s OK, I’m going to stand out here,” Hearon said, forgoing the lectern and speaking directly to the audience from mid-stage. “It’s an intimate gathering.”

He read several selections from Crows in Eden, a “hybrid work” of both prose and poetry published on March 24. Told in multiple voices, it takes place largely in southeast Tennessee, across the Blue Ridge Mountains from where Hearon was raised in North Carolina. Stripped by copper mining, the area became “a wasteland of eroded hills and mountains,” Hearon said; it has since been reforested, hiding this history beneath. Crows in Eden deals with this narrative, as well as the lynching of three Black men in the region in 1919 and the expulsion of the local African American community.

“In my imagination, those two narratives coalesced — the landscape as a kind of open wound that has not been healed…has been suppressed, has been denied,” Hearon said. “What you see when you go there is not at all a whole picture of what actually happened.”

Hearon, a poet, dramatist, songwriter and essayist who coordinates the Bennett Fellowship Program, also read from the first chapter of his debut novella, Do Geese See God, published in 2021. The story centers around a pair of twins, a brother and sister, who are separated after their parents die in a car accident. They reunite 14 years later, after enduring separate traumas, and resolve to return to Ithaca, New York (an Odyssey reference) to take revenge on their foster parents.

Erica Plouffe Lazure, a former Bennett Fellow, struck a more humorous — yet poignant — note with a reading from Proof of Me, a collection of linked stories published last month. Many of them revolve around a fictionalized town in North Carolina, where Lazure spent about eight years and started writing fiction. The book is “very much steeped in my experience there, but also in what I imagined to be there,” she explained. “If you read from the start to the end, you might see…little connectors, like little constellations, that move throughout each of the pieces.”

“[Those are] tough acts to follow,” Alex Myers said, before stepping behind the lectern to read from his latest novel, The Symmetry of Stars (2021). In the section he read, from the beginning of the novel, two godlike beings — Nature and Nurture — spar over control of the world and make a fateful bet, choosing two human sets of twins as their proxies. While narrating this immortal struggle, Myers even managed to slip in a (presumably ad-libbed) reference to the not-quite-right metaphors found in some prep English papers.

In addition to The Symmetry of Stars, Myers has published two other books in the past two years: the novel The Story of Silence (2020) and the nonfiction work Supporting Transgender Students: Understanding Gender Identity and Reshaping School Culture (2021).

A book signing and reception in the Goel Center lobby followed the reading, along with the news that the Poetry Society of New Hampshire had chosen Surface Fugue: Poems (2021) by English Instructor and B. Rodney Marriott Chair in the Humanities Ralph Sneeden, as its “Book of the Year.”

Matt Miller, another member of the English Department, was nominated for the same honor for his 2021 collection Tender the River. Sneeden and Miller had been scheduled to join their colleagues for the faculty reading, but were unable to attend after the Poetry Society’s award presentation was scheduled for the same time.