by Matt Itelson, SF State News, February 2, 2007
Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Nona Caspers succeeds in balancing her rural Midwestern roots with her present San Francisco home, in both life and her new book of short fiction.
"Heavier Than Air," published in November by University of Massachusetts Press, features eclectic tales of mischievous teenage girls exploring their sexuality, men and women dealing with mid-life crises, and loved ones facing declining health. The book's manuscript won the Association of Writers & Writing Programs' 2005 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction.
In a recent Booklist Magazine review, critic Gillian Engberg wrote: "Darkly funny, compassionate and unsentimental, these quiet stories offer memorable, rarely seen views of Midwestern life."
Caspers considers the 11 stories in "Heavier Than Air" to be semi-autobiographical. The narrator of the title story, a female character who analyzes her mother's longtime religious beliefs and mental illness, was inspired by Caspers' godmother.
"I had a godmother who thought the devil was in her jaw," Caspers said. "There is a sense of beauty and wildness when people use religion as a reason behind their madness."
A lively, engaging storyteller, Caspers detailed her father's career as a cow inseminator in Melrose, Minn. ("His entire arm would disappear."), before steering the conversation toward her love of San Francisco, where she moved in 1990 for a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at SF State.
Caspers, who is openly lesbian, always knew she was "different" and would be the first in her family to leave the prairie. Along the way, she traveled throughout Latin America, the Midwest and South, living in teepees, vans and Native American reservations.
"There's this great thing that comes from being odd and living in a rural area," she said. "You're an insider when you're already an outsider. You get a glimpse that you'll be walking out of town with your boots on your shoulders, but you retain a rich, complete view of people in rural areas."
In "Heavier Than Air," Caspers finds differences and similarities between city and country. People in both settings face similar emotional and social struggles, she said. In one of the short stories, "The Fifth Season," Caspers writes about two childhood neighbors, one now dying of AIDS. The two friends were close when growing up in Minnesota. Others mistook them for a couple or believed they would marry in the future, but both would later come out as gay and move to San Francisco.
"Husband. Wife. One dark, one light," Caspers writes. "One sitting in a sunny window on Steiner Street twelve years later, and one scattered into the Northern Hemisphere, dissipated molecules, the final diaspora."
Caspers, faculty adviser to the Creative Writing Department journal Transfer, will spend several weeks this month as writer-in-residence at Oklahoma State University. She will join faculty colleagues Toni Mirosevich and Barbara Tomash for a Feb. 22 reading at Black Oak Books in Berkeley. Caspers will give a solo reading on March 18 at Cody's Books in San Francisco.
Caspers' "A Book of One Hundred Days" will be published in 2008 by Spuyten Duyvil Press. The book chronicles awkward social moments and "the askew" tidbits from 100 days in Caspers' life.