Author and English professor Keith Scribner '80 returned to Loomis Chaffee in January to promote his newly-released novel, Old Newgate Road, and to share his experiences as a writer and teacher at a number of events across campus.
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Old Newgate Road is set in the tobacco fields of northern Connecticut, near East Granby, where Keith lived for a time in his youth. During his campus presentations, Keith said that the shade nets used for growing the tobacco leaves stood out in his memory as being ubiquitous across the landscape when he lived and went to school in the area.
On Friday, January 11, Keith joined a group of student writers for "Dinner and a Draft," an event sponsored by Writing Initiatives at Loomis Chaffee. He engaged with the students about his inspiration and writing process, and shared his professional advice and best practices with the group — many of whom are active in Loomis Chaffee student publications.
"As writers, our job is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange," Keith said to his audience of about a dozen students in the Burton Room. As Writing Initiatives faculty nodded in agreement, Keith repeated "read, read, read" and "revise, revise, revise," endorsing the time-honored practices for improving one's writing. He also suggested embracing all genres of writing, including poetry, and taking classes in any kind of writing in order to build writing into a regular practice. Set a word count deadline, Keith offered, as way to maintain a project's momentum, and he suggested seizing on the first spark of inspiration by quickly writing down an idea when it comes to mind.
After the dinner event, Keith spoke to a public gathering in Gilchrist Auditorium about his inspiration for Old Newgate Road and its characters, setting, and plot. He read several passages aloud for the audience gathered for the presentation.
Keith referenced two New York Times articles, printed more than 100 years apart — one from 1898 and one from 2007 — whose headlines he said essentially read, "They Grow Tobacco in Connecticut and Nobody Knows!" A fascination with Connecticut's little-known, yet hugely influential tobacco industry and his sense that time can be "collapsible" shaped Keith's idea for the novel.
"How lucky we are to be enriched by this place," said Keith to the students, alumni, and current and former faculty members gathered for the book talk and reading. He remarked on the beauty of the campus when he was a student, and to this day.
Keith signed copies of Old Newgate Road for attendees and reconnected with fellow alumni and members of the school community at a reception after his talk.
On Monday, January 14, Keith met with students in Creative Writing and Contemporary Literature classes taught by English teachers Kate Saxton, Tim Helfrich '96, and Phyllis Grinspan. During his visit to campus, Keith recorded an episode of the Pelican Scoop podcast with English teacher Sally Knight, which subscribers may download later this winter.
Keith published three novels prior to Old Newgate Road, including The Oregon Experiment in 2011, Miracle Girl in 2003, and The Good Life in 1999. The Good Life was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers series and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His acclaimed fiction and nonfiction writing have appeared in numerous media outlets, including The New York Times Magazine and The Daily Beast. His anthologies have appeared in Flash Fiction Forward and Sudden Stories: The MAMMOTH Book of Miniscule Fiction. Keith's short story "Paradise in a Cup" garnered both Pushcart and O'Henry honorable mentions.
Now a professor in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film at Oregon State University, Keith earned a bachelor's degree from Vassar College and master in fine arts degree from the University of Montana. He was awarded Wallace Stegner and John L'Heureux Fellowships in Fiction at Stanford University, where he taught in the Creative Writing Program as a Jones Lecturer.
View the publisher's video book trailer for Old Newgate Road. Books are available for purchase in Loomis Chaffee's Alexander Bookstore or at retailers nationwide.
Connect to Loomis' Pelican Scoop podcast page to listen to an interview with Keith by Sally Knight, director of Writing Initiatives.