On Wednesday night, the Barnes and Noble in Storrs Center hosted visiting writer Heather Webb, a historical fiction author, to speak about her new novel “Rodin’s Lover.” The event was organized as a benefit for the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic, CT.
Before Webb took the stage to speak about her book, Ray Aramini of the Covenant Soup Kitchen made an appearance to thank those who had donated to the event. He spoke about the work the Covenant is involved in and about their mission as a whole.
He quickly explained, “we try to raise money, we try to raise food,” but Arimini is clearly focused on surpassing this crucial service that soup kitchens normally provide. Armini commented that the only way for the Covenant to be successful as an individual organization would be “[as] place of acceptance, it has to be a place of love, and it has to be a place of nourishment of the body and soul.”
Armini graciously left the stage as quickly as he had entered. He thanked the audience for their time.
“Without UConn, I’m not sure how we would have been able to sustain the Covenant,” he said.
As Armini left the stage, Webb was introduced into the setting, a small stage coupled by a clustered audience.
“Rodin’s Lover,” Webb explains through her narrative, is somewhat of an accumulation of many aspects of her life. Webb’s father served in the military, and as a result, her infatuation with travel began at a young age.
Of course, it also stems from her passion in creative writing.
“People think of creative writing as this extremely passionate thing,” she said. However, she reminds the numerous creative writers in the audience that “it’s also a business.”
Webb also spent a large portion of her time speaking about her creative process as a writer. “What comes out of you is not necessarily what you expect,” Webb said. “There is a reason for that. Do not fight it.”
Reverting her discussion back to the book itself, Webb explained the premise of the novel alongside some of her key motivations for pursuing this topic in particular. “Rodin’s Lover” is about Camille Claude, an aspiring sculptor in the 1880s and 1890s, who found success through her fiery wit and devout passion, in a time and place where women were harshly shunned from the art world.
“The reality was that women weren’t allowed to attend the most prestigious art schools in France,” Webb said. “There weren’t many schools available there to women at all.”
Here enters the proclaimed Auguste Rodin, whose name inspires the title. Rodin and Claude collaborated together on many of their artistic ventures, and by the same token Claude was able to enjoy many of the same privileges as the men of this time. The situation is only complicated further, when Claude develops schizophrenia, adding another variable to the odds that were already stacked against her favor.
Webb held a well-rounded discussion, with her audience in mind. The small setting in the Barnes and Noble granted a personal experience with an accomplished author. An author, it seems, that those in attendance did not take for granted.
Kaleigh Rusgrove, a graduate student in the MFA program here at UConn, offered a few words on the event, expressing “I was very excited to come, I was drawn in by her bio for the event online, where she detailed her love for traveling to other countries.” Rusgrove also added that, “it was interesting to hear her talk about her process, because I have a similar structure to composing work in my own career.”
Also in attendance was Matthew Shelton, the assistant director of the Creative Writing Program at UConn. Shelton was excited at “the opportunity to get that sort of methodology of getting into the writing process, especially concerning historical fiction.” He also commented that it was “exciting to have that door open, as every writer has a different process creatively, and it is always a pleasure to experience that.”
Webb maintains a close and even-balanced final product in her work. Her passion was heartily projected throughout the discussion. Her commitment was also apparent in the snippet of her novel that she read to close the event. She hinted that she was in the process of a new project, a heavier topic, but one that she was devoted to all the same. We look forward to Webb’s work in the future, and thank her for sharing her time with us here at UConn.
Christopher Mueller is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.