Bowdoin graduate Kelly Kerney returned to campus Tuesday, Sept. 27, to read from and discuss her most recent novel, Hard Red Spring, published by Penguin Random House. The novel, which is told through the stories of four American women, examines the turbulence of nineteenth-century Guatemala. Spanning one hundred years, the narrative entwines stories of Guatemalan history with American intervention.
When she was a student at Bowdoin, Kerney—an English major—worked closely with the department’s writer-in-residence, Anthony Walton. “I had always wanted to be a writer,” Kerney said. “There was never really a decision.” The exposure to classic and modern literature at Bowdoin further inspired her, she said. After reading popular contemporary literature, Kerney thought: “I could do this.”
After leaving Bowdoin, Kerney attended graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, where she was awarded the Nicholas Sparks postgraduate fellowship. Kerney said graduate school gave her a substantial amount of time to focus on writing as it offered two years devoid of external responsibilities. Now Kerney spends at least two full days a week writing, balancing composition with a part-time job in Virginia. Her distractions are minimal. “I don’t have internet!” she said.
Kerney’s first novel, Born Again, was published in 2006 and was recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the best books of the year. The story follows an evangelical Christian coming to terms with evolution. Kerney grew up in a strict Pentecostalist family.
After her reading, Kerney fielded questions about both novels, discussing their differences at length. A few audience members said they struggled to find connections between the two books. But Kerney said the evolution was natural. The seeds for Hard Red Spring were planted when she was at Bowdoin. During her first year, Kerney enrolled in a Latin American history course that looked at the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) and the Guatemalan genocide (1981-1983). The study of Guatemala stuck with her, particularly the involvement of American evangelicals.
Kerney said her research for Hard Red Spring was intensive. The book, she explained, had originally been 800 pages, but she eventually cut it in half.
Students and faculty at the talk also asked about Kerney’s methods as a writer, and she said she writes for full days, or in the evenings.