Sloan, Kay 1951–
SLOAN, Kay 1951–
Born April 11, 1951, in Hattiesburg, MS; daughter of Andrew G. and LaVerne Sloan; married David Schloss (a poet and creative writing professor); children: Signe (daughter). Education: Attended Millsaps College, 1969-71; University of California—Santa Cruz, B.A., 1974; University of Texas, M.A., 1979, Ph. D., 1984.
Office—Department of English, Miami University, 368 Bachelor Hall, Oxford, OH 45056. E-mail—[email protected]
Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC, research associate, 1977-78; University of Texas, Austin, instructor in American studies, 1979-84; Miami University, Oxford, OH, professor of English, 1984—. Fulbright professor in Greece and Belgium.
American Studies Association.
Ohioana Award for Best Fiction, 1992, for Worry Beads; New Women's Voices Contest winner, 2005, for The Birds Are on Fire.
(With William H. Goetzmann) Looking Far North: The Harriman Expedition to Alaska, 1899 (nonfiction), Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
The Loud Silents: Origins of the Social Problem Film (cultural history), University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1988.
Worry Beads (novel), Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1991.
(Editor) Elvis Rising: Stories of the King (short stories), Avon (New York, NY), 1993.
The Patron Saint of Red Chevys (novel), Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 2004.
The Birds Are on Fire (poetry), Finishing Line Press (Georgetown, KY), 2006.
Author of script for "Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema" (a documentary for educational use), 1981. Contributor of fiction, poetry, and essays to periodicals, including Paris Review, Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Room of One's Own, The Journal, Indiana Review, Western Humanities Review, New Orleans Review, and Cineaste.
Kay Sloan's writing ranges over a variety of genres, including history, fiction, and poetry. Her first published book was Looking Far North: The Harriman Expedition to Alaska, 1899, coauthored with William H. Goetzmann. It related the tale of a scientific expedition to Alaska planned by Harriman, a powerful railroad magnate, after his doctor encouraged him to take a lengthy vacation. According to Richard Martin, who reviewed the book for the Wall Street Journal, Harriman hoped the trip would "restore his vigor, add substantially to the body of scientific knowledge, bring him a new image as a philanthropist and help promote tourism and rail travel in the West."
In addition to fourteen Harriman family members and servants, the expedition included eighty-two crew members, an assortment of animals, and all the latest scientific equipment available at that time. During the two-month expedition, the party collected fossils, a variety of bird, mammal, and geologic specimens that would take years to classify, and numerous artifacts of the Eskimo culture—even the totem poles and almost everything else from one village. Sloan and Goetzmann used diaries, letters, transcribed conversations of expedition members, and photographs from a souvenir album of the expedition to compile a book that, according to Martin, "makes for pleasant summer reading."
Sloan's first novel, Worry Beads, is set in a small Mississippi town called Libertyburg. It traces the lives of two families, those of Fred and Chester Bloomer and their respective wives, Winnie and Virginia, over a span of approximately forty years. Central to the narrative is Chester's movie camera, which he purchases in 1942. With it, he captures many poignant moments in the families' lives, including a victory parade celebrating the end of World War II, holidays, vacations, and a wedding. Sloan slowly reveals, however, that behind the happy images on film there are darker events unfolding. A key canister of film is lost for twenty years, and when it resurfaces, it is to be shown at a family reunion. Discussing this book in Southern Review, Fred Chappell found that its "formal ambitions overshadow its themes and energies," yet he still praised Sloan as a "sincere and thoughtful writer" whose book, while not without flaws, "is entirely honorable and highly admirable." A Publishers Weekly writer also praised Worry Beads as "a delicate, finely wrought effort."
Sloan again used a southern setting for her next novel, The Patron Saint of Red Chevys. The story blends elements of mystery with the coming-of-age story of a Mississippi girl, Jubilee Starling. Jubilee is only a junior-high-school student when her mother, a high-spirited singer, is found murdered. Jubilee leaves her hometown when she wins a scholarship to Berkeley, and she sets off on a cross-country drive with her father to reach the university. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, this section of the book has an "emotional poignance" that is absent from the earlier scenes. She writes "amazingly well" of the spirit of the 1960s in the San Francisco area, according to Christine C. Menefee in School Library Journal. Menefee added that the mood of the country as a whole at that time "is equally well portrayed."
Sloan once told CA: "The story-telling traditions of the Deep South were still strong when I was growing up in Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s. My writing—whether poetry, fiction, or history—is still the telling of a story that speaks to human experience and social change. Part of my interest in the Harriman Alaska expedition lay in its marvelous cast of characters, who virtually delivered the narrative themselves. Writing social history is a special challenge: it should entertain as well as inform, and certainly always raise the question of how we can create a more compassionate world."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2004, David Pitt, review of The Patron Saint of Red Chevys, p. 1709.
Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1991, review of Worry Beads, p. 47; June 28, 1993, review of Elvis Rising: Stories on the King, p. 68; June 21, 2004, review of The Patron Saint of Red Chevys, p. 44.
School Library Journal, December, 2004, Christine C. Menefee, review of The Patron Saint of Red Chevys, p. 175.
Southern Review, autumn, 1992, Fred Chappell, review of Worry Beads, p. 937.
Wall Street Journal, July 23, 1982, Richard Martin, review of Looking Far North: The Harriman Expedition to Alaska, 1899, p. 18.
Miami University Web site,http://www.units.muohio.edu/ (May 2, 2006), biographical information on Kay Sloan.