As they prepared to begin college careers, Converse freshman spent their summers delving into alumna Michel Stone’s debut novel, The Iguana Tree. Arriving on campus armed with notes outlining their thoughts, questions, and ideas about the book, the students participated in group discussions led by faculty members as part of orientation. Up next is an opportunity to meet the book’s author, who will give a reading, talk and book signing Thursday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. in Daniel Recital Hall. A prize will be awarded during the event to the best student essay on the book. The event is open to the public with free admission.
“Though in many ways their lives and Converse students’ lives are worlds apart, I suspect most readers can relate to being knocked down and having to pick themselves up.”
Published by Hub-City Press, The Iguana Tree, was released last March in Spartanburg. The book was awarded a bronze medal in the National Literary Fiction category of the 2012 IPPY Awards and was named a spring 2012 “Okra Pick.” It received wide critical acclaim in advance of its release, and has propelled Stone into a national spotlight ever since. In addition to the freshman read program, Converse also selected The Iguana Tree to kick-off “Cover to Cover,” an alumnae book club launching this fall.
Set amid the perils of illegal border crossings, The Iguana Tree weaves a deeply moving tale of Lilia and Hector, who separate to make their journeys from Mexico into the United States. Seeking work in the Carolinas and a home for their infant daughter, Hector and Lilia find Americans willing to help them and provide employment, but their illegal entry seems certain to prove their undoing. The devastating consequences of their decisions paint a universal story of loss, grief and human dignity.
“The Iguana Tree is a story of good people going through extraordinarily difficult experiences and surviving to take another step and go on with their lives, altered as their lives may be,” says Stone. ” The protagonists are about the age of Converse students. Though in many ways their lives and Converse students’ lives are worlds apart, I suspect most readers can relate to being knocked down and having to pick themselves up. I hope readers feel that hope and human dignity shine through in this story even in the face of very daunting circumstances.”
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Among the freshman class are several aspiring young writers, who were drawn to Converse’s creative writing program. The program’s graduates have enjoyed a 100% acceptance rate into MFA programs in creative writing over the last decade. Stone’s advice to these students and other aspiring writers: “Be a voracious reader and read good books. Read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Don’t fear solitude; writing is a solitary endeavor. Be curious about the world, pay attention to what you hear and see and feel, and keep a journal. An observation you record there today may be the kernel that grows into a story weeks or even years from now.”
Returning to campus to share her insight, wisdom and success with new students is a heartfelt experience for Stone. “Having my first novel selected by my grad school alma mater is thrilling, hugely rewarding, and a bit surreal,” she said. “I loved my time as a Converse student, and I admired my professors there tremendously. I’m deeply honored that Converse students and faculty are reading and discussing The Iguana Tree, and I look forward to being on campus with them.”