As part of the VOICES Reading Series, College English professor Jerry Gabriel read a short story from his newly published fiction book, Drowned Boy, in Daugherty-Palmer Commons on Feb. 25.
Gabriel presented the reading before a diverse audience as the third of the VOICES Reading Series this semester, hosted by the College’s Department of English. Despite being scheduled to begin at 8:15 p.m., the main room of DPC was nearly filled to capacity by 8 p.m., as readers, writers, students, professors, baseball fans, community members, and friends came for the event.
“I want to thank all of you for coming out tonight,” said Karen Anderson, Gabriel’s wife and a professor of English at the College, in an introduction to the reading. Anderson told the audience the story behind Gabriel’s journey as a writer, moving from New Zealand to return to the United States and later arrive in Maryland, when Anderson earned a teaching position at the College.
During the introduction, Anderson read quotes from Gabriel’s students. “He taught me to believe in myself and my work, and to stand by it,” said one student, while another described Gabriel as being “a surgeon as well as an artist” who believes that “fiction [writing] is… an activity that should be taken up with reverence and unadulterated joy.”
“Thanks for coming out,” said Gabriel as he reached the podium to face his audience. “How’s the basketball team doing?” After thanking his wife for her introduction, Gabriel began with an introduction of his own. Drowned Boy is not a novel, but more of a “collection of linked stories,” said Gabriel, that follow the relationship between two brothers, Nate and Donnie.
However, Gabriel chose a seemingly unrelated story for the reading, also from Drowned Boy. The story, titled “Slump,” never mentioned Nate and Donnie, but rather focused on the story of a rising baseball athlete who, in his middle school years, made a bad play during a game that costs his team a win.
Told from the perspective of the umpire during the game, the story follows the life of the player through high school, where his talents seem to have shifted towards academics and away from athletics; that is, until the end of the story is reached, when even the umpire is shocked by the events that follow.
“I watched baseball as a kid,” said Gabriel when he concluded the reading, “and there was a second baseman in the late ‘80s that had a slump. I just remembered how awful it was.” Gabriel lengthened the story once he re-formed it to include the umpire as the narrator, eventually finalizing it to include in Drowned Boy.
“The first version of it was a short, five- to six-page story,” said Gabriel. “It wasn’t done, it didn’t resonate. It didn’t mean anything.”
Gabriel seemed to surprise his audience when he discussed his experience as a developing writer. “I didn’t grow up reading,” he said. He took an interest only after taking a creative writing course, originally to fulfill a humanities requirement at Ohio State University. “I was really moved,” said Gabriel. “I was hooked immediately, once I got into a good class. I was terrible.”
“I know the Jerry that likes sports, and I could identify with the character [from ‘Slump’] that decides he doesn’t want to succeed anymore,” said Roger Stanton, a professor of Psychology at the College. “It may not be conscious, but sometimes we may set ourselves up for failure, which may be the best thing.”
“The idea of letting yourself fail was interesting,” said Perrin Jordan ‘09, a former student of Gabriel’s. “Let everything float away, so that you can really define yourself.”
The next VOICES Reading Series event will be held on March 11 at 8:15 p.m. in DPC, and will feature writer Jonathan Bennett.