Welcome to our campus, where English is sometimes taught
Thursday, October 27, 2005
In her sardonic semi-autobiographical novels, Shannon Olson has eased ever-so-gingerly into the full responsibilities of adulthood. This fall, to the delight of students, colleagues and surely her mother Flo ("one of the great moms of American fiction," according to Garrison Keillor), the writer whose character has been compared with Bridget Jones will join the ranks of the SCSU Department of English as a full-time faculty member.
Olson, heroine/author of best sellers "Welcome to My Planet* *where English is sometimes spoken" and "Children of God Go Bowling," has co-taught writing classes at the University of Minnesota (including one with Minnesota literary superstar Keillor) and has been an adjunct faculty member at Colorado College. Since she met Bill Meissner, director of SCSU's creative writing program, at a "Loft" workshop three years ago, she's been a part-time instructor in the program and welcomed the chance to join the faculty full-time when an opening occurred.
"I'm thrilled that it worked out," Olson said. "The faculty here is very supportive, and the creative writing students at SCSU have so many interesting stories to tell. They work hard for their education and really value learning."
"Shannon was considered the perfect choice to teach here," Meissner said of the critically acclaimed and widely read author. "And the students are impressed to work with someone who has been published by a major New York publisher. She bridges the gap between fiction and nonfiction well since her novels are highly autobiographical."
Literary critic Rebecca Vnuk, in a July 15 Library Journal article about the new genre of "chicklit," praised Olson, who, she wrote, "represents the best of a new generation of women's fiction writers."
Olson's unusual writing style infuses wit into ordinary stories of ordinary people. Her characters have familiar struggles -- accepting grown-up responsibilities like using credit cards and surviving boring jobs and failed romances.
They're rooted in memoir, she said, but as a novel, the memories take on a whole other life. "Sort of like processed cheese," she said. "It's based on real experience, but the details aren't always true. I exaggerate, but I quote my family a lot. They're very funny people."
Olson's humorous anecdotes about her mother are particularly precious because "Flo" is, like so many moms, helpful and nurturing but frustrating at times with her well-meaning criticism or slightly offbeat comments. "In my mom's eyes, we're still 5," Olson said. "She still tries to turn everything into a lesson."
Asked what her mother thinks of all the attention she gets as a source of humor in her daughter's books, Olson replied, "Mom always says she is just glad someone was paying attention." And the praise from Keillor for her character didn't hurt, Olson said. "That bought me a ton of grace with Mom."
"Shannon has a wonderful sense of humor," Meissner said. "Her students have remarked on the positive atmosphere in her classes. They learn a lot, but at the same time they're entertained. One student said they laughed so much one class period they came out with their sides hurting."
That atmosphere – that safe environment for experimenting with their writing – is calculated, said Olson. "There's a fine line between providing the necessary structure of a class and a place where students feel like they can take chances and be creative. And the things they come up with are phenomenal."