One of the mandates of the Winship Prize is that it be by a New Englander or set in New England. Moyer is a retired Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at American University who now lives in Eastham on the Cape where he has been writing full time for several years.
By Roberta Silman.
Sometimes there is good news in the book business, and wonderful books find their way to the prizes they deserve. An example is the fate of The Chester Chronicles, published in February of 2010 by The Permanent Press. A friend gave me this first novel in the form of interconnected stories at the end of last summer; I read it and loved and reviewed it here in November, and on March 27th its author Kermit Moyer received the prestigious 2011 Winship/PEN New England Award for Fiction in a ceremony at the JFK Library in Boston.
In an email, Kermit said, “It was truly awesome—it included a party on Saturday night at the Beacon Press (where I talked to Jayne Anne Phillips, Edward P. Jones, and Sue Miller) and—at the ceremony itself—an angelic keynote address by Marilynne Robinson and a superb reading of the opening pages of Hemingway’s ‘The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio’ by Papa’s last remaining son, Patrick.”
One of the mandates of the Winship Prize is that it be by a New Englander or set in New England. Moyer is a retired Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at American University who now lives in Eastham on the Cape where he has been writing full time for several years. When we talked, Moyer confessed that he, like his protagonist Chester Patterson, was an army brat who grew up in several places here and in the orient. “This book is as autobiographical as most fiction is, based on a foundation of my life, but transformed in ways that give it a unique voice and make the events resonate more fully.”
Moyer loves a voice that calls attention to itself and uses what he calls “the retrospective present tense” to achieve the sense of someone looking back on events that are rendered in the present to make them more immediate and compelling. He pointed out that John Updike had used the present tense for an entire novel very successfully in Rabbit, Run.
“Then it was used ad nauseam,” Moyer said, “so it was a risk to use it here, but I thought it worked.” So did I.
Although his model was Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time, Moyer very firmly said that he “didn’t want to write a memoir, I wanted to write fiction, and I loved the idea of taking a character based on me and seeing where he would take me, although Chester is more socially adept than I am. I also love the fact that in fiction you are going into uncharted territory, what Donald Barthelme called the ‘not knowing.’” Like most adolescent boys, Chester is interested in sex, but what lifts this novel into the realm of literature is that the erotic yearning it expresses is not coarse or banal. As I said in my review, I was reminded of Joyce’s “Araby.” Others may be reminded of “For Esme With Love and Squalor” or stories by Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
Now 67, Moyer got his B.A., his M.A., and his Ph.D. at Northwestern, then began to teach at American University. His doctoral thesis was: F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Ideas about History, and he loved teaching American writers of the 20th century. He met his wife of many years, Amy Gussack, when he was an instructor and she was a student, and she has been his first reader since then.
Moyer’s first book, Tumbling, a collection of stories that are not connected, was published in the Illinois Short Fiction series in 1988 by the University of Illinois Press. Moyer says he started the Chester stories as individual pieces, but somewhere in 2005 he realized he had the makings of a novel in the form of connected tales. “I arranged them chronologically, and they end with my father’s death.”
Now he is working on more stories—perhaps Chester grown up—and maybe even on Cape Cod. “I think of myself as a sentence writer,” he told me, “and I think of writing as doing the Australian crawl—the language keeps you afloat.” He also quotes E. L. Doctorow’s dictum: “Writing a book is like driving a car at night: you only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
The Arts Fuse is proud to have reviewed this prize-winner, and all of us here congratulate Moyer on his success and wish him the very best for the future.
Roberta Silman is the author of Blood Relations, a story collection, and three novels: Boundaries, The Dream Dredger, and Beginning The World Again. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.