An anonymous donor provided the funds necessary for the University to hire its first Writer In Residence. In April, Provost/Executive Vice President Matt Lucas announced that Gina Ochsner, who has been an English adjunct at Corban and whose first novel has gained international attention, would fill the position effective July 1.
Ochsner continues, then, to teach creative writing at the University and lead by example. Her novel, The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight, first came out in the U.K. and was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S. last February.
It, along with two other works, attests to Ochsner’s aptitude for writing outstanding fiction. Her two prior collections of short stories won Oregon Book Awards:The Necessary Grace to Fall, which also won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and People I Wanted to Be. Her most recent tale — with its cast of neighbors from a haunted, Siberian apartment block — is a finalist for the Ken Kesey Award for the Novel.
Lucas described Ochsner’s role as Writer In Residence: “Gina will be teaching one course a semester, an upper level writing course. The remainder of her time will be devoted to writing and representing Corban at various writing workshops and seminars. Corban also plans to host a writing workshop, but the details of that are to be worked out in the fall.”
The role of Writer In Residence will be ongoing. “An endowment is being established to fund the position in perpetuity,” said Vice President for Advancement Mike Bates, “but the endowment will be activated at the time of the benefactor’s death. Until that time, the benefactor has committed to an annual gift to immediately fund the Writer-in-Residence position.
“The amount given and the amount of the endowment,” said Bates, “will provide for the full salary and benefits of this faculty role. In addition, some additional funds are anticipated to provide for guest lecturers and conferences.”
At Ochsner’s book-signing event last April, hosted on campus by Dick and Gayle Withnell, 180 guests of Salem’s business community honored the dream-book debut. The event featured a light dinner and a short program. Members of the Corban English faculty read excerpts from the novel, and Lucas interviewed Ochsner about her process in writing. Afterward, during an informal dessert time, Ochsner autographed copies of her books for their owners.
“Gina has the gift for turning ordinary experiences and words into revelatory and transcendent ones,” said Lucas. “What the audience caught a glimpse of [at the book-signing event] was the process by which she does this and the experiences she has had that color her writing.”
Lucas continued, “The addition of Gina Ochsner to the English faculty enhances Corban’s already strong writing program. Our students will have the opportunity to study with a gifted fictional writer as they explore the writing process, develop their own fictional voices and examine the role of narrative in the 21st century.”