Editor’s note: This story includes mentions of sexual assault. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found at our Lady, Sainte Marie and the holy cross websites.
Published author and Saint Mary’s alumnus Susan Furber ’14 addressed the Saint Mary’s community by reading from her novel ‘The Essence of an Hour’ in the Welsh Drawing Room as part of the College’s annual guest writer series on Thursday evening.
“The Essence of an Hour” is Furber’s debut novel. The book, which was released in February 2021, is a coming-of-age story of a female protagonist, Lillie, set in the 1940s.
Regarding Furber’s invitation to read his work, guest writer series director Rebecca Lehmann stressed the importance of welcoming an alumnus committed to both the writing and editing.
“We are really excited to invite Susan to campus because she is a graduate in both English and Philosophy and is relatively young to have published her first novel,” she said. declared. “We always like to bring writers to campus who can show students a role model of how they themselves could succeed in the world of writing and publishing. Susan is just a logical, easy, and wonderful choice for this because she’s literally a Saint Mary’s graduate going out into the world and having this great success.
Lehmann also discussed the connection between Furber’s book – which deals with sexual assault – and the College Symposium on Sexual Violence. She explained that although two events that were not intentionally scheduled in the same week, they are complementary.
“It’s a happy coincidence,” she said. “It wasn’t planned, but given Susan’s work and the subject of the symposium, there’s a really nice synergy happening there.”
“It was a real joy to come back”
In an interview with The Observer, Furber opened up about what it was like to return to campus after graduating in December 2013.
“It was interesting because to explain the book to a lot of people I have to talk about Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame and the Catholic community and education – and again I think I mythologized in my mind, in my memory,” she said. Explain. “It was really nice to come back and see [campus].”
Furber said she arrived on campus during the College’s sexual violence symposium and noted how she saw positive change in the community.
“Seeing all this [support]this very vocal defense against violence and sexual assault, has been very, very uplifting,” she said.
While Furber pointed to the community building that is currently happening on campus, she explained how her sexual assault at Notre Dame was a damaging experience during her time at the College.
“It’s very difficult to talk about it [since] you never know about other people’s experiences,” she said. “For a long time, Notre Dame is where I was sexually assaulted.”
Furber said that for many years she did not feel comfortable discussing her experiences of assault. However, the movement of survivors sharing their stories, especially after the global response to Sarah Everard’s murder, pushed her to do it herself, she said.
“These problems – they won’t go away,” Furber says. “What happens in the book is fictional – what happened to me is quite different. But being able to own the impulse behind it is not fiction. It’s something I’ve only felt very comfortable doing for the past few years.”
Furber said she believes survivors should continue to share their stories. Based on what she saw at Saint Mary’s during her visit, Furber said she thought Saint Mary’s seemed like an inclusive place for survivors.
“We need to share our stories and we need to support each other,“ she says. “There seems to be this community now on campus and I wish I was in that kind of environment.“
Furber emphasized the importance of returning to Saint Mary’s because it influenced much of the material in his novel.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, I think, for a writer”
As for her current work, Furber explained that she is in the process of revising her second novel, which will be a sequel to her first. The book will follow its protagonist Lillie and her life with her husband, to whom the reader was not officially introduced in “The essence of an hour.
“What I’d like to do is follow Lillie, alongside the nascent women’s rights movements, sort of second wave feminism with Simone de Beauvoir and all,“ she says. “The second book, which I’m working on, looks at Lillie and that 10 year period, why is she writing the first novel and we actually meet [her] husband and we understand what’s going on with that.“
While Furber has declared his writing influence “The essence of an hour“ as a trilogy comes from reading Edna O’Brien’s coming of age series “The Country Girls,” she said, according to her, there aren’t enough female coming-of-age stories.
“For as many stories of boys coming of age as we have — really following them through the ages — we really miss that in feminist literature,” she said.
While Furber said she still needed to make changes to her work, she noted that she was excited about the prospect of her second novel.
“It’s exhilarating to continue like this,” she said. “There is still some fine-tuning to be done. There are still things to tweak, but this formatting is, I think, the best feeling in the world for a writer.
“It’s wonderful to have this platform and this privilege – the opportunity to speak specifically to young women”
Before the reading, Furber visited the College’s Fiction Writing Workshop on Wednesday and spoke with students who had read “The One-Hour Essence” for class. Students were able to engage with Furber, asking him questions about the novel itself and his writing career in general.
Madison Suseland, a junior in the course, shared how she appreciated Furber’s personal attention to the class’s response to her novel.
“It was really great having him in class,” she said. “I absolutely loved how she was so engaged with her readers, how she wanted to know how we interpreted her book, how we interpreted her characters. I thought it was a commendable effort at attention and she really wanted honest opinions.
Suseland added that she particularly enjoyed the experience because the class could talk with Furber in a smaller setting.
“I absolutely felt it was a really unique experience,” she said. “I’ve never been able to do this before, especially in such a small and close community, so I thought it was really cool to have this.”
According to Furber, one of the best parts of writing is connecting with the young women who respond to his work.
“It’s wonderful to have this platform and this privilege – the opportunity to speak specifically to young women and to communicate my experiences and the experiences of these characters and also take current experiences,“ she says. “This is why I write.“