Anna Keesey: Enchanting and Instructive

I knew immediately that I liked Anna Keesey and her spunky personality when she stated that her newly published book had gone from a stack of papers to something that you can “punish a cat with.”  She meant of course that the book now exists as a real entity, a production of cardboard and paper, but her particular phrasing illuminated her fantastic sense of humor.

During her lecture Anna Keesey introduced and read from her newest work Little Century, a tale about 18-year-old Esther Chambers and her experience with the conflict between the Central Oregon shepherds and cattle rangers in 1900.  Keesey’s writing was entrancing, for attention to detail and imagery thickened the words with meaning.  The rhythm of the sentences at times seemed to match the slow, rambling that is rural life, while at other times hurtled forward with the speed of the stampeding sheep.  I was both lulled by the calming, languid narrative, but also shaken awake when it would suddenly transform with an urgent energy.  All of this was palpable in the two brief sections that Keesey read aloud.

When asked about her writing Keesey revealed many things about her methods and choices.  She considers this book to be Historical Fiction (which she defines as a constructed reality predating the author’s life) and was prompted to write it in response to a real incident between Oregon shepherds and ranchers.  Keesey outlined the intense amount of research that went into writing this historically based book, explaining that the absence of some historical evidence forced her to imagine and construct her own realities.  Keesey also admitted to extreme shifts that occur in her writing from draft to draft, explaining that while the final book is written in the third person present tense point of view, it was originally written in first person past tense.

As for writing advice, Keesey explained that a text can only “vibrate” with energy when everything in it is meaningful and thus does not waste readers’ attention or investment.  As Keesey said, readers have to carry a “cargo of meaning” when they read a text, and giving them too many inconsequential details overwhelms their ability to understand.

Overall Keesey’s reading and lecture was informative, pleasant, and left the audience wanting to know more about Little Century.