On Sept. 19, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. in the Barat House, the College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program hosted one of its “Meet the Writers” events. Stephanie Powell Watts, author of “No One is Coming to Save Us”, was the first of four authors invited for the fall series. Watts’s novel acts as a partial retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, featuring an African American family, decades later, in rural North Carolina yearning for the American Dream.
Both novels tell the story of someone returning home, the desire for someone that is tied to that life, and the search for the American Dream. But the similarities between “No One is Coming to Save Us” and “The Great Gatsby” end there. Watts wanted to make the story her own. She felt that the women in Gatsby were not given enough credit and the story lacked a quality that could make it relatable to all Americans.
Watts felt it was important to set the story in an area that had experienced the impact of the loss of local labor jobs and had once been highly segregated. The changes throughout the generations, between jobs and segregation is astonishing. All characters in her novel have varying experiences in their lives and in the town because of their age; they see the world differently.
“What happens when those generations are together? Those generational clashes are so interesting to me. There are things that older people are aware of, that I wouldn’t even know,” she said.
At the event, Watts read an excerpt from her novel, expressing the relationship between the characters, location, and race. She also spoke about how the inspiration from Gatsby was involved in the novel.
Novel writing was not simple. It took her around seven years and a series of drafts to get her story to “click” with her. The text adapted over the years. While many of the characters and the themes stayed the same, she set the story in a present-day America, where racial tensions and segregation still exist.
Watts relies heavily on dialogue and what she calls “scenes,” moments of character growth that she would want to see within both her own novel and Gatsby. These are chances that allow the story to progress on its own.
“There were just moments that I really wanted to see what the characters were doing with each other. That is the part of the story that is most dreaded, we feel so out of control when the characters are with each other,” she said
Despite having published a short story collection, the process of Before ending the evening, Watts left the audience of aspiring writers with advice to keep writing and keep trying to get work published. To Watts, every step of the writing process is important and to be commended.
“Celebrate your triumphs. Life is too hard, so cut yourself a little bit of a break and do the best you can,” she advised.
The MFA program will be continuing its “Meet the Writers” on Oct. 4, 2017 with Poet Steven Willis in the Ophir Room of Reid Castle.