Jess Walters visits campus as latest Kelly Writer

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Author Jess Walters, a former National Book Award finalist,
spoke to the DePauw communityon three separate occasions during ArtFest.
SAM CARAVANA / THE DEPAUW

When visiting DePauw University, author Jess Walters brought more to campus than just a long list of books and an even longer list of awards. He also brought with him a sense of understanding of what it feels like to be the only one who doesn’t fit in with the rest of their family and how that feeling affected his works. 

Walters grew up in the town of Spokane, Washington in a blue-collar family. His father and his father’s father were both cattle ranchers, making Walters a third generation rancher. While he has fond memories of his childhood, including when the men of the family would burn brush piles while the women ate inside, Walters found a sort of disconnect with his family.

“I remember watching the smoke and bits rise up from the fire and wondered about where they went,” he said. “I told my father it would go up like a carousel, he told me to go inside and sit with the women.”  

Starting a career in writing proved to be easier said than done. For the first seven years of Walter’s career he would send in his stories and constantly get rejected.

“I like to call them manila boomerangs; every time I would send them out they would come back to me a few months later.” 

He kept all of the rejection letters that he got over seven years as a way to keep him motivated and to grow from what the editors were saying to him.

While trying to get his career as a writer started, Walters worked as a journalist.

“It was a great experience.” Walters said. “You always had a little mystery to solve, whether it just be the question if the school board was going to pass something.”

Walters visited campus as the latest in the Kelly Writers series, giving a reading on Wednesday and a writing craft talk on Thursday.

Walters finished up the reading with some words of advice to those in the audience: “keep writing and more importantly, to keep writing.” 

Walters focused his craft talk on the beginnings of stories and different viewpoints on them.

“People always ask me how I write. I used to say in a journal and people would agree and think they were doing it right,” he said. “Now I tell them that I’m suspended from the ceiling as I paint the whole draft in French on the wall, and then because I can’t speak French I have to bring in someone to come and translate it.”

After hearing Walters share how he writes and how other great authors begin their stories, DePauw students got to look at their own writings with a new viewpoint. They found that the talk was relevant not only to outside writing but also had in class applications. 

“I thought it was fantastic, he’s one of my new found favorite writers,” said sophomore Billy Burke.” We are actually reading him in my Reading as Writers class, so it’s great to see him. For me I think he really nails the short story.”

Walters said that he is constantly writing, and he often has multiple short stories or novels he is working on. 

“I got into writing poetry and other things because I would get stuck on whatever I was writing.” Walters said. “I used to go and watch TV, but then I decided that I should keep writing, so if I moved on to a different piece of writing then I would be more productive. This has been what has made me most successful.”