The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Living Writers: Melinda Moustakis Returns to Her Roots

Colgate Universitys “Living Writers” speaker series welcomed Melinda Moustakis, author of “Homestead” and winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award, to campus on Thursday, Oct. 26. Moustakis attended the corresponding Living Writers class for a Q&A session with Colgate students who recently read “Homestead,” her debut novel. Afterward, Moustakis opened up the doors to the entire Hamilton community for a live reading of her novel and the opportunity for attendees to ask questions regarding her work.

Professor of English Jennifer Brice is the director and lecturer for the Living Writers project. The course provides Colgate students with the opportunity to read works by successful authors and, later, converse closely with them. The unique course has a rich background; according to Brice, the history of the Living Writers project spans decades, leaving a huge impact on the campus community.

“Since 2009, we’ve brought nearly 150 writers to campus, including winners of the biggest literary prizes on earth,” Brice said. “The course was invented in 1980 by Professor Frederick Bush, himself a prolific novelist, and it was one of the first – if not the first – course of its kind in the country.”

Brice herself had a hand in continuing its legacy. 

“The course was mothballed in the early 2000s, after Professor Bush’s retirement,” Brice said. “In 2009, my colleague Jane Pinchin, a literary scholar, and I, a creative writer, began team-teaching the course, which we did until Professor Pinchin’s retirement in 2015. I’ve been doing it on my own ever since.”

Colgate Living Writers is also inclusive of the entire Colgate community, not just students.

“Since 2010, Living Writers has also been an online program for alumni, parents and community members. There are more than 6,000 people signed up for the online program now,” Brice said, “The idea is to foster a rich sense of intellectual community around the experience of reading.” 

Two Colgate students are chosen as research fellows and interns for this project every year. Seniors Tess Dunkel and Dulcie Lou Morris spent their summer reading and researching the books taught in the Living Writers course. Dunkel, an English and studio art double major, explains how she loves finding the best ways to communicate with people, whether visually, verbally or in writing. 

“The internship has gotten me extremely involved within the English department at Colgate, and it is so rewarding to be able to give to a program that is so important to Colgate students and alumni,” Dunkel said.

The interns read and research all novels in depth before they are taught in the course, help create the Living Writers webpage and schedule emails advertising the events.  

“Homestead” was the novel that brought the Colgate community together during the Oct. 26 Living Writers event. Published in February 2023, “Homestead” is a unique work of fiction; the breathtaking and rough Alaskan landscape encompasses the trials of a married couple as they survive both the hardships of their minds and the land they don’t understand. 

“I don’t believe in ‘love at first sight,’” Moustakis said. “The story is intentionally brutal for a reason.” 

Moustakis’ novel is not a sappy love story but a spotlight on the trials of a marriage of convenience and pragmatism – a complex union between two complex people. 

Love is not the only trope Moustakis pushes against. Homesteading was often romanticized in American literature, and the violent history behind it was often pushed aside. Moustakis rejects this, highlighting the characters’ stubborn ignorance as they attempt to settle on land that isn’t rightfully theirs. 

“Post-colonial literature involving stolen land in Alaska is rarely discussed,” Moustakis said.

During her talk, Moustakis added that she was enthusiastic to share a novel that discusses this topic in such a profound way.

Moustakis’ novel is a portrait of her own family history and a representation of the elaborate complexity of life. Moments of grace are sprinkled into the brutal life of two strangers who find a commonality in their need to survive. 

One thing that was different about Moustakis’ reading is how similar to her family history her novel was,” Dunkel said. “She spoke about her grandparents’ life as homesteaders, which made the book feel so much more alive.” 

In the violence of nature, there lies a strange beauty. The characters in “Homestead” are graced by sights of the Northern Lights and Alaskan wildflowers, moments that allow the characters to catch their breath amidst a world that threatens their reality. 

“Melinda Moustakis’ novel is unlike many others that I have read before,” Dunkel said. “It finds its beauty in a quiet, slow-paced lifestyle, which really allows her fruitful writing to shine. The alternating styles of voice and tone complement the tensions of rural and urban landscapes throughout Alaska, and paint a wonderful picture of Moustakis’ home state.” 

Despite making her debut as a novelist, Moustakis remarked that interacting with the Colgate community brought back memories from her own days as an undergraduate student. She recalled this time when she herself was once excited to meet novelists and that events like these further encouraged her to pursue a career in writing.  

“I’d always get excited about opportunities to speak with writers about their novels,” Moustakis said. 

In an undergraduate poetry class, Moustakis discovered her aptitude for prose. She was urged to take a fiction class, where she first wrote about Alaska and her profound connection to her home state. According to Moustakis, this assignment is when she recognized her talent and was urged to write more. 

She did just that, resulting in “Bear Down, Bear North,” a short story collection, and “Homestead,” her first debut novel. Her love and appreciation for writing are evident – not only in Moustakis’ collection of works but in how she describes the writing process: when the world becomes soundless. Moustakis has gone through a journey of discovering her own talents and implementing an aspect of herself into her work, a journey that provides encouragement for the entire Colgate community.

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