This installment of “Conversations at the Newberry” explores how historical fiction, as a genre, places two competing demands on the writers who dare to play in its sandbox: on the one hand, faithfulness to what happened in the past, and, on the other, imagination in crafting characters and plots that will resonate with audiences today. The creative tension between these principles can transform a bygone era’s faint specter into a shimmering presence, while imbuing fictional figures with the gravitas of our shared human legacy. If a writer fails to strike the right balance, however, she consigns her novel to the dustbin of, well, history. Tasha Alexander and Susanna Calkins, two Chicago-based writers of historical fiction, will visit the Newberry to discuss the agony and the ecstasy of their literary genre of choice.
Tasha Alexander’s and Susanna Calkins’s signature heroines, Lady Emily Ashton and Lucy Campion, respectively, are sleuths who have been forced into their pursuit of clues, motives, and pernicious rapscallions by events beyond their control. Living in eras less committed to gender equality than our own (to put it mildly, in some cases), they both reckon with their fair share of societal pressures, in addition to criminals. Lady Emily maneuvers for agency within the country estates and constraining gowns of Victorian England, while Campion takes advantage of a social vacuum created by the tumultuous events of mid-seventeenth-century London.
Before the conversation between Alexander and Calkins, be sure to visit the accompanying pop-up exhibit featuring historical fiction from the Newberry’s collection, located in the East Gallery, adjacent to Ruggles Hall.
Listen to the audio recording of this program.
Tasha Alexander is the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Emily series, which began with the publication of And Only to Deceive in 2005, and of the novel Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Alexander attended the University of Notre Dame, where she studied English and medieval history.
Susanna Calkins made her literary debut with A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate in 2013. Her next novel, From the Charred Remains, was a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Calkins holds a PhD in history from Purdue University; she is Director of Faculty Programs for Northwestern University’s Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching.
“Conversations at the Newberry” is generously sponsored by Sue and Melvin Gray.
Free and open to the public; no registration required.