An Authorlink interview with Kelly Fordon
By Columnist Ellen Birkett Morris
In her collection of linked stories, GARDEN FOR THE BLIND, author Kelly Fordon explores questions of race and privilege through the experiences of Alice Townley, a resident of an affluent suburb outside of Detroit. As the story begins Alice loses her sister to an accident.
Garden for the Blind
by Kelly Fordon
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The subsequent stories follow Alice, her friends, and boyfriend Mike, as they graduate from youthful pranks to truly reprehensible behavior.
Their behavior, which largely goes unpunished, stands in contrast to that of the inner city kids, who are punished for the mere suspicion of wrongdoing. The story comes full circle as Alice’s own daughter serves community service in a garden for the blind, which becomes a place of reckoning and redemption for the white suburbanites and the inner city youth who live outside of their sphere of influence.
Fordon described the experience of writing and revising the novel, which was rejected by Wayne State University Press in 2010 before being published by them in 2015, as one of exploration as she unearthed connections between characters and found unity of theme across stories.
|“What I find so amazing about the process is that you discover so much and find your way from point A to point B . . .”|
“What I find so amazing about the process is that you discover so much and find your way from point A to point B, if you don’t give in to despair,” said Fordon.
She was thirty-five, with an undergraduate degree from Kenyon College and children in school, when she got permission to sit in on an undergraduate workshop at University of Michigan. Fordon took the course three times and worked with writers Laura Kasischke, Nancy Reisman and Craig Holden.
She honed her craft further by attending workshops at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, Key West Literary Seminar and Bear River Writers’ Conference among others. She went on to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Her experiences made her ready to take on the feedback from the readers at Wayne State and armed her with the tools she needed to revise the stories and turn them into a cogent collection.
While revising, Fordon got rid of characters that were too similar and made the characters Alice and Mike romantic partners. While at a writing workshop in Aspen, Fordon found that her workshop group members liked the story, but disliked the characters. She followed the advice of writer/workshop leader Paul Harding who said, “Anyone can create a monster, but I want to see real people.”
Fordon went through the stories adding back story and even created the character of Alice’s sister, who dies in the book’s first story, The Great Gatsby Party.
“I started to feel for these characters, and wondered if they would ever realize what they had done,” said Fordon. Finding emotional empathy for the characters helped her bring the stories to a satisfying conclusion.
“Keeping the faith was the greatest challenge . . . “
“When the book wasn’t published in 2010, it was a real challenge to pick it up again. I knew it would take several more years. I wanted to get published before I was forty and I had to let that go. Keeping the faith was the greatest challenge,” said Fordon.
The stories are an interesting look at how upbringing and circumstance shape our view of the world.
“Opportunity Cost” deals with a high school teacher who has to decide whether or not to sign a petition in opposition to opening up suburban schools for urban students or risk losing his job. His decision takes place against the backdrop of a heated debate about race among the students.
“Being privileged means you don’t have to look what you have done in the eye. It is hard to feel sorry for Alice because she is so blind,” observed Fordon. Throughout the book, characters are blind to the socio-economic forces that have shaped their circumstances.
This theme culminates in the last chapter when Alice and her daughter come face to face with a blind inner city child, who is far more perceptive than the sighted people around her.
The book is set in an unnamed suburb of Detroit.
“Because I am not strong at scene setting I used a lot of places I had been to as locations.”
“Do it for the love of writing, because you want to tell a good story.”
Fordon said this left her mind free to feel the story completely.
She researched aspects of the book, but said her readers were quick to offer corrections, pointing out the location of a painting cited in the book and advising her that elm trees could not be climbed.
At the end of her ten year journey with this collection and now working on a novel, Fordon advises, “Do it for the love of writing, because you want to tell a good story. Don’t forget you are doing this for yourself.”
|About the Author|
Kelly Fordon’s poetry, fiction and book reviews have appeared in The Boston Review, The Florida Review, Flashquake and The Kenyon Review. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, On the Street Where We Live and Tell Me When It Starts to Hurt. She works for InsideOut Literary Arts in Detroit as a writer-in-residence. You can find her work at www.kellyfordon.com.
|About Regular Contributor|
Ellen Birkett Morris
|Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.|
Categorised in: Interviews
This post was written by Ellen Birkett Morris