November 4, 2019
Almost 30 years ago, Kathleen Cecilia Nesbitt started a novel when she was an undergraduate at Columbia College in Chicago studying creative writing and photography. “I didn’t know what it was,” she says of that early draft. “It wasn’t until I stopped writing it and went back to get my MFA that I realized what it was about.” She remembers an adviser asking her repeatedly, “What’s the plot? What’s the plot?”
The difficult part for Nesbitt was trying to write about painful experiences—namely, the sexual trauma she survived growing up. “I thought I would try, as best I could, to let the reader be saturated in the experience,” she says. She recalls being frustrated with the questions people asked her: “Why didn’t you just leave? Why are you so fucked up?” But she also wanted to capture the frustration of watching someone try to deny a traumatic past. “I want the reader to be frustrated with June,” she says about her novel’s protagonist. Nesbitt didn’t want June to be a normal or easily likable character. “This is not normal,” she says. “This is trauma. We’re working through trauma.”
SENTENCING SILENCE is a powerful book with a message for those who have lived through trauma. Each segment or fragment of the story connects to and layers with another. Did the voice(s) come to you?
I’ve always been fascinated by persona and voice, writing from the perspective of another. Most of the poetry I’ve had published are persona poems. But I also had these fragments voices in prose, and it was my little magic box of sundry voices that got me accepted into the MFA program at Goddard College. I am fascinated with how a writer can get to the core of a character’s personality, their being, their issues by honing in on what takes the character’s attention not just in their own environment, but in any environment they experience. Interestingly, three of the voices traveled with me when I began working on my MFA: June, Sandy, and Viola. My instincts told me they had a very important story to tell, but I didn’t know what the plot was at the time. Although Viola became a minor character in SENTENCING SILENCE, she is a very important support system to the main character. She is, essentially, the Hag.