For instructors, there is an additional vulnerability, a sense of being studied and examined as intently as if they were the subjects of the course. In my day job, instructors frequently speak of feeling naked and exposed when they teach.
Indeed, the public scrutiny can be tough for instructors. Even those who can bear it may still acknowledge a somewhat alarming truth: Students may know all kinds of things about us--often well before we know a single thing about them. So looking out at that sea of student faces, instructors may find themselves asking--who are these students, really? What are they thinking? What are they hiding?
These are the kinds of questions that Lori Rader-Day explores in her stunning debut novel, The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books). In this compelling work of fiction, a sociology professor seeks to understand why a student she didn't even know tried to kill her.
I invited Lori to chat about her novel on my blog. [Full disclosure: Lori and I work at the same university, although we actually met at Printer's Row in Chicago last year.]
You don’t have to work at a university to worry about the violence happening on campuses across the nation, but because I do work at a university, it’s something I think about. But The Black Hour is more about the aftermath than the violence itself. The idea was: what would a first day back on campus be like for someone who survived an act of violence? Since the perpetrator was no mystery, the question had to be why. When I started writing, I didn’t know why, either. I had to keep writing until I knew why.
The Black Hour is told through the alternating perspective of two individuals—the sociology professor who was the victim of the shooter, and a graduate student serving as her Teaching Assistant (TA). What contributed to your decision to tell the story using two voices? What were the challenges and the benefits of this technique?
Originally I started the book from Amelia’s perspective. In the first few chapters, she met a new graduate student who was interested in her work studying violence. About 50 pages into writing the book, I realized I had a problem. Amelia was newly injured. How was she going to go scampering all over campus looking into her own attack? It turned out that the student, Nathaniel, had more to say. And then took over half the book. The challenge was in keeping the two first-person narrators separate so that a reader would know who was talking at all times, but the opportunities were greater. I had a lot of fun playing them against each other, and forcing them to share the story gave the novel its structure and pace.