Award winning writer visits UMW
BY FAITH RIVERS AND HOPE RACINE
Award winning writer Andy Duncan presented some of his fiction at the University of Mary Washington’s Thursday Poems Series on February 6.
Duncan is known for his work in the game of science fiction, often including Southern themes and motifs. Hailing from South Carolina, Duncan cultivated a reputation for his ability to compellingly portray people and places.
On Thursday Feb. 6, Duncan read an excerpt from his piece “Real Indians,” which tells the story of a rivet gang composed of Mohawk American Indians working on a construction detail to build the 30th floor of a building. After taking a break and hearing about an opportunity for “real Indians” at the premier of a movie about General Custer, the gang returns to work. They are working as usual when disaster strikes. Afterward, the main character decides to check out the opportunity at the theatre.
According to Duncan, he was inspired to write about the characters in “Real Indians” by the article “Mohawks in High Steel” by New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell.
Duncan said that he spent a lot of his life thinking about what it would be like to be someone other than himself.
“I think myself into other people,” said Duncan.
Duncan started writing at a young age, working in journalism before pursuing creative writing. It was during graduate school that he encountered John Kessel, whom Duncan cites as a large motivator behind his writing.
Kessel would encourage students to share their stories in class, and Duncan was often the first one to do so. Once, after hearing an account of a pope who put his predecessor’s corpse on trial, Duncan said he was inspired to write a story narrated by the corpse’s guard. Duncan said he thought if the pope was crazy enough to put a dead body on trial then he must be crazy enough to think someone needed to guard the corpse and his idea evolved from there.
Duncan recounted that the story had a polarizing effect on the class and that a third of the class loved the story, a third were bewildered by it and a third hated it. Duncan said that after listening to the classes’ responses, John Kessel, Duncan’s thesis director, refuted all of the criticism.
“Kessel played a large role in encouraging me to write. He also is part of the reason why I decided to go into teaching,” Duncan said. “He told me that if you go on to be a writer, you have to return the favor to the field. And there’s really no other way to help than through teaching.”
Duncan teaches creative writing at Frostburg State University in Maryland, in addition to teaching online classes at the University of Alabama.
Though Duncan won multiple awards throughout his career, including two World Fantasy Awards and the Theodore Sturgeon Award, he said he could never stop teaching.
“When I have nothing to do but write, I never actually get around to it. I like being forced to write and interact with people,” Duncan said. “And I love teaching. I love my kids and seeing how excited they get about writing. They’re where I get a lot of my inspiration.”
Duncan is currently promoting his upcoming work “Agent of Utopia” which will feature both selected works and new stories and will present some of his work at the International Conference on Fantastic in the Arts this March.