Keene State College’s current Interim Dean of Arts and Humanities and Professor of English Kirsti Sandy has recently been awarded the 2017 Monadnock Essay Collection Prize from Bauhan Publishing. The prize includes publishing the winner’s book, an additional free, 50 copies and a financial prize.
Sandy’s essay collection titled, “She Lived and Others Girls Died” reads like a memoir and, starts off in the 1970s, following her life from age three to 21.
Sandy has been writing since she was young. She said she used to steal stories, such as Cinderella, and make up her own story to it. Although she has been writing for years, Sandy said there was a time she didn’t want to write after having a bad experience with an unsupportive creative writing professor in college. However, when Sandy went back to graduate school, she said she took a lot of classes that focused on creative nonfiction and essay. She said those genres really spoke to her.
A good way to talk about why she loves the genre, she said, is a quote from her eight-year-old daughter – that “it’s a true story, so it can be about what you want it to be.”
“That’s what I like about writing true stories,” Sandy explained, “because it gives you, in a sense, the power to decide what it means, you know, things that happen to you. Rather than really accepting other people’s versions of that, you get to work that out for yourself and say, ‘Here’s what this means and here’s what sense I make of it,’ and it’s a really empowering thing to be able to do.”
Sandy considers her writing voice in the piece she submitted to be very casual and conversational. She said she thinks it’s going to be interesting if her colleagues and students read it because it’s not a super, “Oh here’s my great story of all my lovely things I did,” type of story.
“I’m writing about adolescents in college, my college years. I can’t sanitize those stories, they won’t have the same impact at all,” Sandy said. Rather than portraying her college experience as something it wasn’t, Sandy put in everything she dealt with, including times where she felt she messed up.
“You know, probably the worst villain in the book is me,” Sandy laughed. “We all do things for attention or because we get swept up and we do these things, but it’s important to own that and to say, ‘Look I’m really sorry that I did this and it was horrible.’”
Sandy’s essay collection has a lot of emphasis on her college years and what it was like to grow up in the 70s and 80s. She said she didn’t think the 80s was a great time to grow up and she wasn’t nostalgic for it.
“It was kind of like the trickle down economics, like you have to succeed and then if you succeed other people can’t, so you kind of have to push people out of the way,” Sandy said. “One of the things that, when I started writing these essays, I thought about was, ‘How does that impact people’s personal relationships? How do they deal with each other?’”
Sandy submitted her essay collection in October. She had over 20 years of work all together and said she didn’t have to scramble. She submitted it basically two weeks before the deadline. This wasn’t the first time she had submitted work to be looked over.
Sandy said she had some near misses with agents last year. Every time, she said she would hear the same thing, to rewrite her piece as a full-on memoir and they’d take another look.
“So I had to think at that point, did I want it as a full-on memoir? And frankly, I didn’t. It would mean adding filler and I just don’t think it would work… now I don’t have to do that, I can publish it as a collection as it is meant to be read,” Sandy said.
Sandy however, has not been in this process alone. She has had the support of her students and her colleagues.
Sandy said in her classes, she would occasionally read them a piece of hers and they would give her very honest feedback. She also had her colleagues, Jeff Friedman and Kathleen Fagley, look over her work.
KSC senior and english major with a concentration in literature and writing Adam Filkins took the Autobiography Workshop course with Sandy a few years ago. He said he was bummed that he hasn’t seen her in a teaching setting in so long since she has changed her position. In his course with her, Filkins said Sandy “very much let you explore yourself in [the] memoir class.” Filkins said he really liked having her as a professor.
Professor of English Kathleen Fagley said she’s known Sandy since she worked at the Child Development Center in August of 2009, and Sandy asked her if she would be interested in being an adjunct in the English Department. Eventually, Fagley said yes.
Fagley has read Sandy’s work before and even read an early draft of her essay collection.
“She’s a very authentic writer and she’s not afraid to expose some things about herself,” Fagley said of Sandy.
Fagley described Sandy to be a “modern-day Charles Dickens” in her writing because she brings in a lot of cultural artifacts from the 70s and 80s.
“I think what happens when I read her work, what resonates with me, is what cultural artifacts of 2018 will people 20 years from now be picking up on and writing about? She does such a good job, and when she is writing, I start to remember these things,” Fagley said.
In regards to Sandy’s style, she said, “She’s very quirky, very interesting, she’s got very interesting aspects and expands on them.”
Grace Pecci can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org