Written by on May 7, 2014

Conversations with Cal Poly Authors explores what it means to be wild

Kennedy Library got wild on Friday, April 18, as we welcomed Mary Stewart Atwell and Elizabeth Adan for our most recent Conversations with Cal Poly Authors event.

In this casual conversation, Mary talked about her debut novel Wild Girls. Mary, who goes by Polly, has an MFA and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MA from the University of Virginia and teaches English at Cal Poly. She was joined in conversation by Elizabeth (Liz) an associate professor of art history at Cal Poly with an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Contemporary Art, Religion, and Cultural Analysis with a Doctoral Emphasis in Women’s Studies from U.C.S.B. She also holds an MA in Rhetoric from U.C. Berkeley and an MFA in Studio Art from U.C.S.B.

“Wild Girls is a coming of age story with fantastic elements about what can happen when a teenager’s sense of discomfort in the world can get out of control,” Polly said.

Wildness and other themes

“I think it is important to articulate ‘wildness’ in the novel,” Liz said when asking Polly about the wild girls in the novel.

Girls that grow up in the town of Swan River all have a chance of becoming wild in the book. Kate, the main character, tells us that they can become wild from the ages of 16-18 years old.

When a girl becomes a wild girl, she does what angry girls want to do, like lighting things on fire with her mind. Most of these girls are so consumed by the mayhem they create that they do not make it out alive. This is because these girls have never had any sort of power before, so when they do possess some, they do not know how to control it, Polly said.

There is not much language to describe aggression in women and we need a language for that, Polly said. There are so many stories of angry men, but not many about women.

Listen to the podcast:

Writing process

Mary (left) and Elizabeth (right) discuss Wild Girls.

Polly (left) and Liz discuss Wild Girls.

Writers do not just tell a story; they are manipulating language, Polly said in her conversation. Polly also talked about how writers need to pay attention to every detail and to be mindful of their surroundings.

“The business of a fiction writer is to be awake, alive with those details,'” Polly said.

One thing that helps Polly in her writing process is teaching. Another thing that Polly says helps her to write is to read often.

“All writers are readers first. I need to make reading apart of my life; it is very fulfilling for me,” Polly said. She draws on authors like Karen Russel and Donna Tartt for inspiration.

Book trailer

Mary’s husband, Charlie Cline, a film-maker, made a book trailer for Wild Girls:

More about this Cal Poly Authors event

For photos from this event, be sure to check out our Flickr.

Read more on cal poly authors, conversations with cal poly authors, Elizabeth Adan, Mary Stewart Atwell, Wild Girls, and young adult fiction.

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