Jean Thompson
Photo provided by MU

Author Jean Thompson Presents VIA on Novel

Emily Ewen

Jean Thompson, a novelist and short story writer, whose novel “The Year We Left Home” is this year’s Indiana Humanities state-wide read, presented a VIA on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. Joining her was Barbara Shoup, also a novelist, to ask her questions and join in on the conversation.

In her novel, Thompson took the audience through the many changes affecting American life at the end of the twentieth century through the lens of the Ericksons, an ordinary family in the 1970’s in Iowa whose story travels to Chicago, then Italy, encountering wars, the farm crisis, and economic busts. The family pushes through heartbreak and setbacks, encapsulating the human desire of happiness during times of turmoil.

Thompson has written many novels and short stories. She was a National Book Award Finalist and her short fiction has appeared in publications including “The New Yorker,” “The Best American Short Stories,” and “Pushcart Prize.” Shoup shares success as well, receiving grants from the Indiana Art Commission and the Arts Council of Indianapolis, as well as awards such as the 2012 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Regional Indiana Author Award. Some of her books have been chosen as Best Books for Young Adults.

Thompson started out the VIA by reading the first three pages of the novel, interrupting here and there to share personal information with us about the writing process. Talking with Shoup, Thompson revealed that she wanted to novel to have a large scope, spanning years of time to capture the entirety of the lives of the characters. She writes her chapters specifically and methodically, explaining that she wanted each chapter to seem as though it were ending a story. This was done to make the ending point feel direct and substantial, self-containing the chapters.

Thompson further noted that she really wanted the novel to focus on the economy, not the characters. The characters were used to drive the larger story, especially using Ryan, a constant character who is featured throughout the entire length of the story. She wanted to do this to allow people to connect more with the struggles as a whole rather than individual characters. Thompson related that to society’s current struggling concerning COVID-19. She said that hardship and trauma bring people together, especially when it is shared.

Thompson and Shoup had the opportunity to answer some questions. They both agreed that they love writing, Shoup explaining further that it is what helps her stay balanced. Shoup said that it is like a vacation from the struggles of the real world because it becomes a small world of her own where she can have full control of what happens.

They both agreed that sharing their work has become an honor. Thompson said she look at writing as a gift, especially when she has the opportunity to share it with others. They agreed that finding a group of readers and writers whom they can openly share their work with is essential. It pushes them to write, gives them motivation, and they feel supported.

Thompson and Shoup said they look forward to writing and sharing their work with others, especially during the current tough times.