Claire Vaye Watkins: A Deserted Author

Last Tuesday, author Claire Vaye Watkins read an excerpt of her book “Gold Fame Citrus” and answered questions for a group of students in the Hunter Conference Center.

Watkins is an author and professor at Ohio State University. Sbe is the author of “Battleborn,” a collection of short stories, and “Gold Fame Citrus,” a fiction novel set in a futuristic and drought-stricken California.

The reading began with a brief introduction by assistant professor of English Kelly Ferguson, who stated she has wanted to invite Watkins to campus since she began teaching at SUU.

Ferguson said she was driving through the desolate landscapes between Las Vegas and Cedar City as she listened to Watkins give an interview on the National Public Radio (NPR). Watkins was asked how she came up with these fantastical desert landscapes in her novels.

Ferguson said she looked around at the desert around her: “I can see how,” she said.

The landscape plays a key role in Watkin’s stories. The excerpt from “Gold Fame Citrus” she read described her three main characters crashing through a dead yucca forest, found only in very specific elevations and climates, namely the deserts of the American West.

“What a weird and wonderful place … the desert can be,” Watkins said. “There is a crispness to life here.” Watkins grew up in Pahrump, Nevada, within the confines of the Mojave Desert.

In fact, Watkins said SUU was the first university campus she became aware of, first traveling here as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. In her book “Gold Fame Citrus,” the main characters are traveling from California to Salt Lake City.

The desert originally became a part of Watkin’s stories after she had moved from her hometown to Ohio for graduate school. Her mother passed away and Watkins realized there was nothing tying her to her hometown; there was no reason to return if she was not going back to see her mother.

“I was grieving, longing, very deeply homesick,” Watkins said, “So, it was really sad. I felt pretty alone and adrift, and I think I wanted to summon my home back to me, in a way.”

Watkins says the desert can become much more of an active setting, helping her guide her stories in ways other settings might not. “I think that’s because, you’re more likely to die here,” Watkins said with a chuckle. “It’s not as hospitable. It insists itself on the drama of the scene.”

After 10 years in Ohio, Watkins says she is finally beginning to write about the midwest, but has not left the desert quite yet.

More information on Watkins and her books can be found on her website here.

Story and photo by
Andrew Leavitt