Meet the 2011 Faculty: Michelle Huneven

Posted by on May 17th, 2011

We’re excited to welcome back faculty member Michelle Huneven, who last joined us at the conference in 2006.

Michelle HunevenHuneven hails from the Los Angeles area, which is stereotypically associated with mass media entertainment rather than literary fiction. But in her works, Huneven infuses the sprawling landscape with gravitas. Her novels _Round Rock_ (1997), _Jamesland_ (2003) and _Blame_ (2009) feature troubled souls who grapple with such weighty topics as spirituality, resilience and what it means to be good — nothing less than [what Huneven characterizes](http://hometown-pasadena.com/creative-types/michelle-huneven/) as “the perennial spiritual dilemma, ‘How do people live in this world?’”

_Round Rock_ centers on two denizens of a residential alcohol treatment program and the woman they both love. Through their ongoing struggles for sobriety, Huneven reveals their spiritual lives. As reviewer [Valerie Sayers notes in the _New York Times_](http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/08/03/reviews/970803.03sayerst.html),

> “Round Rock” borrows from Alcoholics Anonymous an insistence on facing sad truths in the past and then getting on, one day at a time, with the rest of life. … Huneven is matter-of-fact about her characters’ grabs for God and about A.A.’s belief in a higher power. The search for a purposeful life, she reminds us, does not happen in a spiritual vacuum, and it does not necessarily happen within the confines of organized religion.

In _Jamesland_, Huneven delves overtly into spiritual matters through a trio of characters that include Helen, a Unitarian pastor; Alice, whose great-great-grandfather was the philosopher and psychologist William James; and Pete, a chef who is struggling to right himself after a suicide attempt.

“In this novel about hunger — for friendship, for love, for God — spiritual nourishment can come from anywhere,” [writes San Francisco Chronicle reviewer David Kipen](http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/10/05/RV196588.DTL).

On their journey toward love and kinship, the characters examine their inherited burdens and beliefs. [Huneven told the LAist](http://laist.com/2005/03/07/the_laist_interview_michelle_huneven.php),

> I am very interested in the idea that we’re all just parts of huge patterns — genetic, historical, cultural‹and that even things like our dreams and idiosyncratic irritabilities may have been passed down wordlessly yet effectively from our ancestors.

The protagonist of _Blame_, Huneven’s latest novel, has inherited alcoholism from her father — a legacy that shatters her life when she’s convicted of killing two people while driving drunk. Patsy’s prison sentence is just the beginning of a struggle with the responsibility she bears, a journey that resorts to no glib solutions. [Author Lizzie Skurnick writes](http://bookcritics.org/blog/archive/30_books_in_30_days_blame_by_michelle_huneven/),

> That impulse to seek stability — not how one finds it — the author returns to again and again, mapping out battles of the psyche, its fruitless attempts to gain purchase, its misguided achievements, its frequent delusions. … Huneven is not interested in redeeming Patsy, but in using the tragic event to explore the far more provoking question of whether, in blaming ourselves for the obvious, we avoid our true responsibilities.

Read more about [Michelle Huneven on her Web site](http://michellehuneven.com/) — or, better yet, [join her in Napa this summer](http://napawritersconf.org/apply).

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