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Author Bobbie Ann Mason gives reading

By : Gina Pellrine

Author Bobbie Ann Mason wants her readers to feel as if they are going through a complex inner experience while they read her stories, she said during a reading last week on campus.

Mason, who has written 12 books, including four novels, received her master’s degree in English from Binghamton University in 1966.

“I studied literature and I wasn’t writing fiction really,” she said. “What I gained here was an appreciation of literature. And from what I hear now, students aren’t reading enough. They want to write, but they’re not reading.”

Mason established her reputation as a writer in 1982 with her short story collection Shiloh and Other Stories.

Her novel In Country, a New York Times best seller, was made into a film starring Bruce Willis in 1989. Her 1999 novel Clear Springs was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. She has also written a biography of Elvis Presley and a feminist study of the Nancy Drew series.

Mason began by reading from her 2006 collection of stories, Nancy Culpepper. The stories follow a Kentucky native who left home to attend school in Massachusetts, married and raised her son in the Northeast. When she inherits the Culpepper family farm later in life, and finds answers about her ancestry that she’s been searching for, she realizes that her life is coming together as it ought to.

Mason, who lives in Kentucky, said Nancy is the closest character to herself that she’s created. “She thinks like I do,” Mason said.

Mason said she usually doesn’t have anything in mind when she begins a story. “It’s discovery,” she said. “With a story, I usually just wonder what’s going to happen and write off the top of my head.”

Writing a novel, however, requires structure. “A novel takes so long to do,” Mason said. “I usually spend the first year doing nothing because I don’t have anything to work with yet. I test the waters.”

Refreshments, questions and a book signing followed the reading. Some fans stood with a single copy of her book in hand, while others carried four or five piled on top of one another.

When asked how it feels to be back in Binghamton, Mason said so much time has passed and the world has changed. “The campus is totally different,” she said, “but I can still recognize special landscapes — mountain in the back, the hill going up.”
Mason said she still keeps in touch with a couple of good friends from the University as well as former Binghamton professor Sheldon Grebstein, who helped her get an assistantship.

The Binghamton Center for Writers’ spring Readers’ Series will continue with author Rachel Kadish at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, in LH-8.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08