Editor’s Note: This editorial includes discussions of sexual violence. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found at our Lady, Sainte Marie and the holy cross websites.
Author and Saint Mary’s College alumnus Janet Kelley visited campus on Friday as part of the Raise Your Voice symposium on sexual violence to read an excerpt from her novel ‘Taint’ and discuss the role of fiction in the fight against sexual violence. Kelley first addressed the heavy nature of the topic.
“Before I begin my prepared remarks, let me remind you that this is a safe place in which I plan to talk about uncomfortable things,” she said. “If at any point you need to step out of the room for a while…please do so. »
Kelley said that before her visit to Saint Mary’s, she gave herself “reading homework”. Her first reading assignment was Chanel Miller’s memoir, “Know My Name.” Although it was written after her own book, she said her intense story about sexual assault was part of the reason she was apprehensive about selling her own book.
“I viscerally understand that a book about rape, a fiction about sexual assault, may not be digestible by everyone,” she said.
Kelley’s second assignment, she said, was Eve Ensler’s work, the “Vagina Monologues,” which had a big influence on her when she was in college.
“When I left South Bend, I was able to quote the ‘Vagina Monologues’ by heart instead of the New Testament,” Kelley said.
The works of Ensler and Miller have similar effects on the reader, Kelley said.
“Both texts make you want to protest, listen to women, tell your own story or take action to right the wrongs women face,” she said.
After discussing Ensler’s impact on her life, Kelley read a poem by Ensler titled “My Revolution Begins in the Body”. The poem explores the idea of female empowerment and the many ways this revolution is unfolding. Kelley said she finds Ensler’s work “deeply inspiring and poetic” and that it drove the story center stage of her own novel.
The story Kelley writes in “Taint” follows a high school student named Luke, who is raped and only tells his best friend, Rebecca.
“Over time, I have become deeply concerned about the plight of male victims in particular,” Kelley said, “especially those who suffered assault in a deeply homophobic time. shame, except, of course, that I imagined it in my book.
Being forced into silence and the perpetual pain of that silence was a major theme in Kelley’s work.
“It’s Luke’s story, his story of sexual assault, but he can’t even tell it. Rebecca does, for better or for worse,” she said.
The excerpt from Kelley’s book expresses Rebecca’s shock at seeing Luke in a deeply troubled mood, “His eyes are red, swollen…I’ve never seen him like this.” Kelley stopped reading before he finished his planned excerpt.
“I found it would be too difficult for me to read the pages aloud, so I’ll leave that up to you,” she told the audience.
After the reading, Kelley spoke about her book’s role as a work of fiction. She said there is damage that can be done by writing trauma work in a fictional setting that can be “turned off.”
“I can never be sure that my attempt to address male rape meets my own rigorous standards of fiction,” she continued. “That standard is do no harm.”
Closing his prepared remarks, Kelley celebrated the general movement of sharing stories that offer people like Luke a way to find a voice.
“Today, wonderful, empowering and diverse voices are celebrated in such a way,” she said. “It’s vital work, providing young people with role models of possibility.”