Author Ann Leary speaks about writing process at forum event

Kel Werkheiser and Michael Taromino

Novelist Ann Leary was on campus to attend a question and answer session and speak at a forum about her writing process on March 8.

Ann Leary had a question and answer session at noon, facilitated by professors Erica Delsandro and Robert Rosenberg. A number of the students in attendance were from Rosenberg’s class, “Beginning the Novel.”

One thing that Leary suggested was that a writer could create their ending first, to help guide themselves. She also suggested writing as if writing to a dear friend in a letter. 

If a writer worries too much about whether or not their reader is getting their humor or the overall point of the writing, the writing could end up being heavy-handed, she said. Don’t bring the reader to the conclusion – let the reader bring themselves to the conclusion. 

Leary’s novel, because of its basis on the Laurelton Village for Feebleminded Girls and Women of Childbearing Age in Union County, Pa., required a substantial amount of research. She looked into local databases, becoming engrossed with the information because of how much she was learning about her family history.

“You can never do too much research,” Leary said.

Later that day Leary discussed her novel in depth and the creative process it took to crafting it at a forum sponsored and paid for by the Funding University Lecture Committee, the Stadler Center, as well as various departments around campus and known Bucknell contributors.

Throughout the hour, Leary analyzed her background, specifically the effect her grandmother had on her and her legacy within the book. She discussed her grandmother and her relationship with her for the eight years she was alive in Leary’s life. Her grandmother worked at Laurelton State Village, the place that was based on the setting in “The Foundling.”

Leary mentioned years researching the history of Laurelton State Village in crafting her novel, learning about various doctors that presided over the mental hospital at the time when eugenics was a nationwide norm. She discussed the pain through her own readings and personal anecdotes that eugenics had on familial relationships with an intellectually disabled person.

In searching records, Leary learned extensively of Dr. Mary Wolf, a Bucknell graduate and doctor who worked at Laurelton State Village and who Leary based her grandmother off of. She then further discussed all of her characters within “The Foundling” and how her research led her to formulating them within writing, including Lillian, who Leary based on the average girl sent to an asylum back then.

In addition to talking about her book, Leary went into detail about the legal, societal, and physical hardship women endured throughout the eugenics period, roughly 1920-1940. She also mentioned why she made certain decisions within her book, such as her choice to write in first person point of view instead of third person point of view, to make the story more “real.” 

Leary claimed, “I wanted the reader to come to Laurelton State Village the way Mary did and the way I did too.”

Leary ended the forum with a brief Q&A, where she was asked and answered about the evolution of Laurelton State Village, her writing process, and the effects prohibition had on mental hospitals. 

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