CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – If you’re in Washington, D.C., later this fall and you happen to stop by the Library of Congress to get a look at an early draft of the Declaration of Independence or an original Gutenberg Bible, be sure to keep your eyes out for a copy of “The Baker’s Boy,” a novel by Austin Peay State University professor Barry Kitterman. The book will be on display inside the world’s largest library, with more than 22 million catalogued books, as part of the newly established Peace Corps Writers Collection.
On Sept. 22, Kitterman will visit Washington, D.C., for a special Peace Corps Writers Luncheon to celebrate the new collection. The collection was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and to honor the numerous writers who served as volunteers over the years.
Kitterman joined the Peace Corps in the late 1970s and worked as a volunteer in Belize. He memorably depicted some of his Peace Corps experiences in the 2008 novel, “The Baker's Boy.” The book tells two intertwined stories of Tanner Johnson. The first deals with him as a middle-aged man, so haunted by his past that he flees from his pregnant wife and the stable life he knew. That past informs the second story in the book, which focuses on Johnson's traumatic struggles and disillusionment 25 years earlier while serving with the Peace Corps in Belize.
The work struck a cord with many of his fellow returned Peace Corps volunteers, and in 2009, it was awarded the Maria Thomas Fiction Award by the website, www.peacecorpswriters.org. The award, named after the late novelist and Peace Corps volunteer Maria Thomas, is given annually to a work of high literary merit. Previous winners include best-selling authors Paul Theroux and Kent Haruf.
“In reading Barry Kitterman, I find myself rediscovering the pleasures of reading Dostoyevsky — admittedly an extravagant claim in response to a first novel,” Ann Neelon, a poet and Murray State University professor wrote in a review of the book for the website. “Like ‘Crime and Punishment,’ ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ ‘The Idiot’ and/or ‘The Possessed,’ ‘The Baker's Boy’ constitutes a powerful work of moral imagination.”
The book’s inclusion in the new Library of Congress collection is the second bit of good news Kitterman has received this year. In May, Southern Methodist University Press published his second book, “From the San Joaquin.” The work is a collection of short stories set in Kitterman’s hometown of Ivanhoe, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley.
A recent review of the book by Chapter 16: a community of Tennessee writers, readers, & passersby, said, “ In From the San Joaquin Barry Kitterman, an English professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, has created a fine example of the American short-story cycle, the kind of linked collection that Sherwood Anderson pioneered in his masterpiece, Winesburg, Ohio.”
Shortly after Kitterman returns from Washington, D.C., he will give a reading from his new book on Oct. 16 at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza. The time of that event will be announced soon.
For more information on Kitterman or his fiction, contact the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts at 221-7876.