Novelist Presents an Endowed Lecture

Snowden Wright Speaks at Bridgewater

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  • Snowden Wright stands behind the podium as he reads an excerpt of his novel American Pop.

  • The endowed lecture was held inside Carter Hall as President Bushman, his wife, and other audience members prepare for Snowden Wright’s lecture.

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Alexander Naupari, Staff Writer

Bridgewater, Va. – Mississippi-born author and alumnus from Dartmouth College and Columbia University, Snowden Wright, came to Carter Center on Feb. 19 to give an endowed lecture about his works. Snowden titled his lecture “Fake News! On Fact In Fiction.

Wright started off by talking about his first novel, “Play Pretty Blues.” Even though it is largely based on the life of African American blues musician Robert Johnson, it is a fictional story crafted by Snowden.

Wright’s second novel, “American Pop,” is a fictional, intergenerational story about a family that owns a booming soda company and details their interactions with misfortune. “American Pop” received many accolades including earning a spot as one of NPR’s “Best Books of the Year.” Wright said that “American Pop” was largely based on his own family experiences and the nostalgic imagery of southern culture during the 1900s.

Wright read excerpts from both of his books which displayed his use of expressive language and the short, witty descriptions of his character’s lives according to his imagination. Upon completion of both readings, Wright spoke about his motivations for using historical figures or times that drive his works.

Wright said that as a child, his father told stories about events that happened in his hometown. While not complete fabrications, Wright’s father told the stories in ways that elevated the truth of the situation to make them more entertaining. Wright said that, “over the years since I first heard the stories as a child, my subconscious had fictionalized the truth. I had made fact not only more interesting but also more believable by turning it into a lie.”

Wright incorporated this experience into his own style of writing. Snowden said that is why “my chief concern as a writer is narrative, and Robert Johnson has one of the best. He was a great musician but he’s an even better story. You got a brilliant artist who is also a bit of a scoundrel, you got an exotic setting, you get the supernatural, you got an array of love interests. In that way, Johnson’s life is one of the most genre-malleable lives.” 

Wright made this “genre-malleable” statement in reference to other fiction writers who have made horror-fantasy, mystery, and even majestic realist novels based on Johnson’s life story. Wright applied the same technique of fictionalizing the truth in “American Pop.”

The lecture concluded with a Q and A section where one audience member asked Wright if he uses his novels to explore real issues of economic or social disparity that exist in marginalized communities. Wright said that he did do that in “Play Pretty Blues” by highlighting the problematic aspects of Southern culture and institutions during Johnson’s life. 

Another audience member asked Wright if he felt any responsibility in portraying the life and struggles of someone from a different social background than him. Wright said that he did when writing about his first novel which included characters of color and of the opposite gender than him. Wright said that he did as much research about his characters’ lifestyles and welcomed the advice of people within these communities while carefully writing about them.

Bridgewater student Katya Zabocki commented afterward that she enjoyed listening to the lecture since she “appreciated learning about one author’s take on historical fiction.” She said that his perspective and approach to writing was interesting.