Saterstrom, Selah 1974–

views updated

Saterstrom, Selah 1974–


Born February 15, 1974. Education: Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, M.F.A., 2002.


Home—Denver, CO. Office—University of Denver, 2199 S. University Blvd., Denver, CO 80208. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer. University of Denver, Denver, CO, creative writing instructor. Slab Projects, co-curator.


The Pink Institution (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2004.

The Meat and Spirit Plan (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2007.

Editor of Tarpaulin Sky, 2006-07.


Writer Selah Saterstrom attended Goddard College's creative writing M.F.A. program, earning her degree in 2002. Saterstrom, in an interview with Goddard advisor Rebecca Brown on the Goddard College Web site, stated: "At Goddard, I realized that for me community is necessary. I feel like what I am, in a big sense, trying to do is explore the mystery of what it means to be human, in relation, on this planet, under these particular conditions." She also stated that her experience at Goddard gave her insight into "reading, writing, community," and "a willingness to break open."

The Pink Institution, Saterstrom's first work of fiction published by Coffee House Press in 2004, is an extension of the thesis work that she completed while at Goddard. Saterstrom explained to Brown: "I began the manuscript with the idea I would tell a story for someone who couldn't: ghostwriting for a dead person. In the end, after a lot of wandering, it wasn't about one person. It was more about people affected by that person, how fragmentation can happen, some of the ways memory works, and how certain patterns look at different times." The story takes place in Mississippi and follows the lives of four generations of women in the same family that live out a cycle of abuse and misfortune. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the family as "wracked by its own dysfunction and held fast by a place that has never fully recovered since the day the Civil War began." Undeniably, Saterstrom includes much graphic content, including instances that allude to or describe the physical abuse, alcoholism, and suicide of its characters. Although the novel explores these depths of human tragedy, greater meaning can be extrapolated where "the family's slide into alcoholism, poverty, and despair embodies the overall decay of the region," according to Library Journal contributor Faye A. Chadwell. The change in narration by the various characters, such as Penelope's account of her childhood, the historical Deep South setting, several pictorial reinforcements, and quoted materials, allows Saterstrom the narrative space to take, as Chadwell remarked, "a fresh approach" with this type of realistic storytelling. In addition to comparing the author to Faulkner in her choice of locale and presentation of familial discord, Chadwell called The Pink Institution a "daring debut."

The Meat and Spirit Plan, Saterstrom's 2007 publication, likewise focuses on the conflict that arises from personal struggles and violent confrontations. In an interview with Lisa Guidarini for the Bluestocking Reader Web site, Saterstrom discussed her preparations for the novel and stated: "As part of my research for this book I also interviewed women who had been sexually abused, and I realized that sexual abuse, something we tend to think of as the exception to the rule, really isn't the exception." Regarding the protagonist, she remarked: "Through this narrator, who has a variety of sexual experiences, some of which are violations and some which are not, I wanted to examine the cultural conditions around young people and the ways they come into their bodies. I was interested in how sometimes the moment of sexual awareness coincides with moments of sexual disempowerment or disembodiment." Scott Bryan Wilson, on the Quarterly Conversation Web site, reported that although the text "has an abundance of darkness, it's an extraordinarily moving and entertaining novel." Wilson further commented that the work "is a thematic continuation" of The Pink Institution, and that "what Saterstrom achieves here is really rare: it's moving, entertaining, challenging, serious, and deeply, almost unbearably funny…. On the whole, The Meat and Spirit Plan is well-written, utterly deceptive, and subtle." Accordingly, Saterstrom uses punctuation sparingly throughout the text and never provides a name for the female main character; the girl is identified throughout just as the pronoun suggests. Reviewer Ed Park, in his article for the Believer Web site, commented on Saterstrom's focus on meaning rather than on form, evinced by the lack of "semicolons" and "quotation marks," and he stated: "The most intense episodes are carved in the most patient prose." Moreover, a Kirkus Reviews contributor observed the author's use of structure and noted: "The novel is divided into paragraphs, though Saterstrom orders these paragraphs into a loose narrative framework organized by fragments," and Eleanor J. Bader wrote that the novel is "experimental in form but precise in detail," in her Library Journal review. The narrative ultimately follows the life of a young girl; it begins in her hometown, describes her unconventional childhood and her departure for college, and finally ends with her return. Interwoven into this chronology is a series of sometimes humorous, sometimes violent events that provide coherency and develop the character's persona. A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that "Saterstrom's coming-of-age narrative is tough and unblinking, and the moments of clarity provide immense satisfaction."

Saterstrom lives in Denver, Colorado. She is a faculty member for the University of Denver where she teaches creative writing. Saterstrom also worked as an editor for the Tarpaulin Sky publication.



American Book Review, January 1, 2005, Joanna Howard, review of The Pink Institution.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2007, review of The Meat and Spirit Plan.

Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Faye A. Chadwell, review of The Pink Institution, p. 141; September 15, 2007, Eleanor J. Bader, review of The Meat and Spirit Plan, p. 53.

Publishers Weekly, March 22, 2004, review of The Pink Institution, p. 62; June 18, 2007, review of The Meat and Spirit Plan, p. 32.


Believer Online, (June 26, 2008), Ed Park, review of The Meat and Spirit Plan.

Bluestalking Reader, (August 27, 2007), author interview with Lisa Guidarini.

Bookslut, (June 26, 2008), Angela Stubbs, review of The Meat and Spirit Plan.

Goddard College Web site, (June 9, 2008), author interview with Rebecca Brown.

Selah Saterstrom Home Page, (June 9, 2008).

Quarterly Conversation Online, (June 10, 2008), Scott Bryan Wilson, review of The Meat and Spirit Plan.

University of Denver Web site, (June 9, 2008), faculty profile.