Stehekin is not the most glamorous location for a writer to live. The small community in Washington’s North Cascade Mountains is only accessible by boat or float plane, and its 100 year-round residents make the College seem big by comparison.
Or at least that’s the comparison that visiting writer Ana Maria Spagna made at the VOICES reading on Thursday, Nov. 13.
At the reading, Spagna read an essay from her first book, Now Go Home: Wilderness, Belonging, and the Crosscut Saw. The book takes its name from popular Oregon bumper stickers that read, “Welcome to Oregon, now go home,” which is directed especially at people from California, the state in which Spagna was born.
The essay form the book, entitled “Entombing Spiders and Other Small Shack Stories” detailed Spagna’s experience in sharing a five-acre plot of land in Stehekin with three friends. She lived in a shack with her partner Laurie, who declared when spiders flooded the shack the first night that she was “entombing them” by duct-taping the spiders’ entrances.
“The shack, it turned out, is of the same dimensions as both Henry David Thoreau’s idyllic retreat along Walden Pond and the convicted Unabomber’s shack in Montana,” Spagna read. “So we’re wondering this: Are we living simply? Or are we crazy as heck?”
“It was a really honest opinion of someone trying to get away from the sprawl, but also being honest about their natural needs,” said senior Mary Clapp. Clapp can see herself living in more wooded, natural environments after college, and called Spagna’s essay “an encouraging story.”
Spagna also read an abbreviated version of a chapter from her newest project, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus. The chapter is from a part about her father, Joe Spagna, and his participation in the civil rights movement in Tallahassee, Fla.
Joe Spagna died of a heart attack when Ana Maria Spagna was 11 years old. Spagna felt that during her childhood, her father’s memory was glorified somewhat. “I was very suspicious of this ‘hero of the civil rights movement.’”
After some research, however, Spagna found her father mentioned as one of six young men who protested a Tallahassee statute that enforced bus segregation in spite of the then-recent 1956 Supreme Court ruling declaring bus segregation unconstitutional. Her second reading detailed her search for Leonard Speed, son of Dan Speed, small storeowner and active member of the bus integration campaign. She did not find Leonard Speed, but did find two of the men who rode the bus along with her father.
“I think they knew exactly what they were doing,” she said. “That’s the amazing thing.”
Spagna came to the College as a result of her friendship with Jerry Gabriel, a visiting assistant professor of English at the College. The two met at Northern Arizona University in the Masters program for English. Gabriel’s wife, English professor Karen Anderson, is in charge of selecting artists and writers for the VOICES program this year, and they both thought that Spagna would be a good choice. After the reading, Gabriel said, “I don’t think we were wrong about that.”
According to Gabriel, Spagna’s new project also includes other aspects of her life, such as spending time with her partner in Washington and taking care of her mother, who has cancer, in southern California. “The new book…is a stunning work,” Gabriel said. “The way she brings these three stories into focus is really amazing.”
The next VOICES reading will be held on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 8:15 p.m. in Daugherty Palmer Commons. College English professor Jeff Hammond will be reading from his nonfiction book Small Comforts to celebrate its recent release.