National Book Award winner, Phil Klay lecture

2014 National Book Award winner for Fiction, Phil Klay, visited the campus on Feb. 10, as part of the Spring Writers Series, an English Department event sponsored by the Allan Hamilton Dickson Fund. Klay, a Marine Corps Veteran, is gaining national attention and honors for his recent collection of fictional short stories, entitled Redeployment. In Redeployment, Klay brings to life the realities soldiers face both during deployment and on the home front. During his stay on campus, Klay lent his writing and his public speaking talents to students, serving as a class guest speaker, writing workshop conductor and guest of honor at a public reading.

Seemingly unphased by the public attention and his new found literary rock star status, one only needs to speak with Klay for a few minutes before realizing that under his cool, laid-back demeanor is an extremely well-read and well-versed author. Taking time to speak in Dr. Kuhar’s Postmodernism Literature Class, Klay and students discussed and analyzed three of his short stories, “Redeployment,” “Bodies” and “Ten Clicks South” which are located within Redeployment.

Afterwards, Klay conducted a private workshop with students, who had the privilege to discuss a wide range of topics in an intimate setting. Klay divulged some of his favorite authors both in the short story genre and beyond, crediting Isaak Babel, T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoyevsky as a source of inspiration. Klay was quick to anecdotally include, to break-up the monotonous time he spent in military training, he memorized T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Klay was also eager to discuss the process of acquiring a literary agent and the process of submitting manuscripts to students interested in possibly following in his footsteps.

Similarly, when conferring about business, Klay let his personality shine through, informing students he never considered “an author” as a job title. Klay jokes, “Writing is a shameful side-habit that is not to be talked about.” He continued to elaborate, “Writers are weirdoes, who spend a lot of time alone imagining other people.”

It was asked if a particular story stood out in Klay’s mind, whether  it was for challenges the story presented, character development or favoritism. Klay responded by stating, “Each story presents a different challenge.” Klay expanded upon this notion, by detailing as a war veteran these stories required him to not only complete research but to sometime relive and “dwell in a negative place or to write from a negative character voice,” thus each story occupies a different personal sentiment for the author. Klay also discussed the way in which his stories are linked throughout this text. Klay asserts that each story “is not a one-off.” The first few vignettes “help to inform the reader’s perception of the latter stories.” Klay persists, “Jetted against the backdrop of war, all the stories assist in what needs to be a conversation.” As the workshop concluded, an obvious observation was that Klay has created a far sweeping, everyday conversation centered on the elements of combat that might have otherwise been overlooked.