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Scholarship@Villanova: Alan Drew reads from his critically acclaimed novel

Alan DrewJoin us for a reading by Alan Drew, M.F.A., novelist and Villanova University faculty member. Professor Drew will read excerpts from his first novel, Gardens of Water, and from The Hidden Life, his in-progress second novel. The reading will be held at 12:30 pm on Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, in Falvey Memorial Library’s first floor lounge.

Gardens of Water (Random House, 2008) was chosen as Pasadena’s One City/One Story, University of Iowa’s Center for Human Rights One Community/One Book, and ‘one of the best books of 2008’ by School Library Journal. The novel tells the story of love and sacrifice between two families, one Kurdish and one American. Kirkus Reviews called it “a novel about lovers crossed not by the stars but by the clash of cultures.”

Professor Drew, who teaches creative writing in the English department, says he got the idea for the novel shortly after the devastating 1999 Marmara earthquake, which killed over 17,000 people, according to official reports. At the time, he and his wife felt the earthquake where they were living, about 600 miles away in Istanbul, Turkey.

“There were many experiences living in Istanbul that feed into the story, but the germ for the book came very shortly after the quake,” he explains. “Since the school we worked for had missionary connections going back to the early 19th century, they had set us up with a Southern Baptist church group from Texas that ran [one] particular tent city. They all wore blue shirts with doves on them and crosses on the chest pockets. The camp was organized and clean, and we helped feed a few hundred people breakfast and lunch.”

He continues, “Later, as winter approached and the Turkish government had recovered from the shock of its own ineptitude, this group was kicked out of Turkey for proselytizing to children in the camp. If true, this struck me as such an abuse of the people they were caring for. It also struck me as such a wasted opportunity. Had these people simply cared for the Turkish Muslims who had lost everything… what a positive impression these Muslims would have had of Christian charity. In the book, I wanted to explore the anger I imagined a devout Muslim, such as Sinan Basioglu, might feel in such a situation.”

In addition to reading from his novels, Professor Drew will also discuss his experiences living in Turkey and the struggles of writing a novel. He notes that, on the journey to becoming a published author, he didn’t start writing seriously until living in Istanbul. “I wrote an article about the earthquake, which I published in a few newspapers.”

Upon returning to the United States, he attended the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he began Gardens of Water. “I thought I would get the novel done in a year or so, but I didn’t have a clue about how complicated writing a novel could be, and it actually took me a little over four years to write.” He calls the Workshop “fantastic,” but notes that students “have to be very serious about writing because no one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you keep working.”

On The Hidden Life, he says, “I have finished a draft of the novel, though I’m reworking it significantly now. As much as I tried, one major character is simply not working in the book. As painful as it is to go through such a major revision, the book feels right now, as though, after three years of work, I’ve finally found its center.”

The reading is free and open to the public. Copies of Gardens of Water will be available for purchase and signing by the author.

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Last Modified: November 10, 2010