Adelaide Burr cornered Ms. Hempel during homeroom and described her costume. Adelaide was an avid appreciator of dance. Her first book report had celebrated in a collage (dismembered limbs; blue glitter) the life and contributions of Martha Graham, and her second, a dramatic monologue, was based on a bestseller written by a ballerina who had suffered through several disastrous affairs and then developed a serious cocaine habit.
— From “Ms. Hempel Chronicles”
Ms. Beatrice Hempel, teacher of seventh grade, is new — new to teaching, new to the school, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her idiosyncratic father. Grappling awkwardly with her newness, she struggles to figure out what is expected of her in life and at work.
Is it acceptable to introduce swear words into the English curriculum, enlist students to write their own report cards, or bring up personal experiences while teaching a sex-education class?
So begins “Ms. Hempel Chronicles,” the acclaimed second novel by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. A finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award, the book followed Bynum’s 2004 debut, “Madeleine Is Sleeping,” a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize.
On Tuesday, April 8, Bynum will lecture on the craft of fiction for The Writing Program in Arts & Sciences, followed by a reading on Thursday, April 10. Both events begin at 8 p.m. in Hurst Lounge, Room 201, Duncker Hall. A reception and book signing will follow each.
For more information, call 314-935-7428.
Bynum’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Tin House, the Georgia Review and the “Best American Short Stories” 2004 and 2009. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA Fellowship, she was named one of “20 Under 40” fiction writers by The New Yorker.
She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Otis College of Art and Design.