Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dawn Shamp

Award-winning author Dawn Shamp received an MFA in writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, and has received a fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center and attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference on a grant from the Durham Arts Council.

On Account of Conspicuous Women (2008) is her first novel.

Earlier this week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Thank you for asking. I ought to be ashamed to admit this, but I tend to read works I should’ve read way back in high school, and perhaps too little of what’s current, but for Michael Chabon and Eric Felten’s column in the Wall Street Journal (hey, if it weren’t for his column I never would’ve known how to make a Sweet Patootie or discovered mascara cherries).

At the moment I’m doing research for a novel set in the 1940s, so I’m having a heyday with a stack of books. Among them are three standouts:

Three Comrades by Erich Maria Remarque. This book is an absolute treasure. Here’s a writer who not only has a remarkable understanding of the human condition, but who also portrays it beautifully with his stunning balance of wit and poignancy — without melodrama. One scene that will forever stick with me is when a drunken, somewhat despondent Herr Lohkamp bumps into a man larger than himself on the street:

“Keep your eyes open, can’t you, you bucking broomstick!” barked the fat man.

I stared at him.

“Never seen a human being before, I suppose, eh?” he snapped again.

He was just my mark.

“Human beings, yes,” said I, “but not beer barrels that walk.”

“Streak of misery!” said he.

“Fat old fool,” I responded.

Solemnly he raised his hat. “Pass friend,” said he, and we parted.

Virginia Cowles’ 1941 book Looking for Trouble is also keeping me great company. It’s a true account of her experiences as one of the few female war correspondents in Europe during WWII. What a brave dame if ever there was one! She cavorts with an interesting mix of characters fit for a P.G. Wodehouse novel. For example, she’s “invited” to spend 3 days in lavish captivity by a Spanish general hoping to convert her to Communism, and even gets invited to a party honoring Hitler, whom she describes as “drab and unimpressive.” “You had to pinch yourself to realize that this was the man on whom the eyes of the world were riveted, that he alone held the lightning in his hands.”

I’m also re-reading Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. Each time I revisit it I’m more awed than the last. The manner in which he develops the character of Willie Keith is nothing short of brilliant. Wouk’s style is spare yet complex. Every word counts.

So basically, I’m having my second childhood reading classics. Which confirms for me what I’ve thought all along — I was born too late.
Read Linda L. Richards' January Magazine review of On Account of Conspicuous Women as well as other accolades and reviews.

Visit Dawn Shamp's website.

--Marshal Zeringue