When best-selling author and UNC Asheville Goodman Endowed Visiting Writer Wally Lamb visited to UNC Asheville to talk about the art of fiction writing and his experiences teaching incarcerated students, it was his first time on our campus—but he already had a connection here.
“Wally Lamb began to teach at York Correctional Facility in 1999, when I was 12 years old,” said Kimbo States, a UNC Asheville senior English major, who introduced Lamb to his audience on Oct. 29, 2019. “I remember my father, a correctional officer at York, who is sitting right over there, coming home and talking about a Lamb creating a voice for the inmates through writing.”
States’ connection to Lamb did not end with her father; they also share their high school alma mater. States attended the Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut, where Lamb had attended school and served as a teacher for 25 years. “I began to learn about the Wally Lamb legacy, especially his impact on the English department,” States said. “Every one of my teachers lauded him and his teaching.”
States also credited Lamb with her love of reading. “Almost 18 years ago I heard Wally Lamb speak for the first time,” States said. “His passion and his humbleness emanated through his words and
actions, and launched me on my journey to becoming an avid reader, thinker, and English major which I am now, to becoming a librarian.”
After his introduction—which Lamb praised as the best he’d ever received—Lamb shared with the audience his experience in teaching and writing. Like the sciences, Lamb said, writing is about examining life, and “the need to understand and interpret the world around us on some intellectual level.”
“We analyze, articulate, synthesize, form theories and political opinions because we hunger to understand the world, and our place in it,” Lamb continued. “Which is exactly why I teach, and why I write fiction.”
Making sense of the world is an unending challenge, Lamb said, especially when it comes to answering tough questions.
“How could the Holocaust have happened? Why in places like Syria and the Sudan, has genocide crept into this century? What is in the suicide bomber’s heart the moment before detonation? Why are racism and bigotry on the rise again? Why does hunger live in the bellies of so many of the world’s children, including kids who live here in Asheville? If there is a merciful god, then why all the suffering? Tough question. Unanswerable I think, no matter what your major was in college—or is,” Lamb said. “And so we grope, we struggle to understand. But I believe that is what makes us human. And it becomes a noble struggle when it’s accompanied by a rejection of the status quo, and an effort to change things for the better on a personal, a community, a national, and a global level.”
Lamb’s visit to UNC Asheville also included a discussion with faculty and staff involved in the UNC Asheville Prison Education program, where he discussed his work with the incarcerated students in the York Correctional Facility, and a visit with a creative writing class to discuss the road to publication, why he writes, and the unexpected calls from Oprah Winfrey that launched his career.
UNC Asheville’s Visiting Writer Series continues with a reading by poet Jericho Brown on November 14.