On Wednesday, Oct. 27, the Loras English Department welcomed author Keith Lesmeister to campus. Lesmeister spent the evening holding a reading for his most recently published book, “We Could’ve Been Happy Here,” that night at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the Academic Resource Center. The event was attended by several English faculty members as well as English literature and creative writing majors.
Lesmeister’s fiction has appeared in “American Short Fiction,” “Gettysburg Review,” “North American Review,” “Redivider,” “Slice Magazine” and many others since he started writing. He is also a published nonfiction author, with his work being published in “River Teeth,” “Sycamore Review,” “The Good Men Project,” “Tin House Open Bar” and “Water~Stone Review”, among others. The book he read at the reading, “We Could Have Been Happy Here,” was published by MG Press in June of 2017, five years after Lesmeister started writing it during his MFA program in 2012. He currently teaches writing at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
Lesmeister started out his reading by giving students and professors a sense of where he had been on his writing journey. During his undergraduate years, he majored in communication studies but didn’t take very many English classes. After he graduated from college, Lesmeister spent a few years raising his daughter with his wife and settling down as a family. After the birth of his second child, however, the author thought it would be a good time to take a class. The food co-op in his town offered a creative writing course, so Lesmeister signed up.
“That was my very first reintroduction to writing,” Lesmeister said. From that point, he decided to start writing fiction and nonfiction.
After working on what was supposed to be a memoir about family, mental illness and religion, Lesmeister was unsure of whether or not to publish it. His professor suggested that he started writing fiction. Thus, writing “We Could’ve Been Happy Here” had begun.
“I wanted to write a short story collection instead of just one fiction piece,” Lesmeister explained about his book. “That was the form I gravitated to the most, the form that I read a lot and really loved.”
Throughout the five year period of writing his book, Lesmeister faced lots of writing challenges. He explained that writing a novel, a book of short stories or other works for publication, is a group process. Influences from professors and people he had met in the past all went into helping him create his book. The acknowledgment page and dedication of his book, he said, could have easily been much longer.
“There are people who, when I first started off as a writer, believed in me along the way even when I was a non-traditional student,” Lesmeister said. “I look around and see a lot of writing majors here, and I’ve heard about some of the courses offered for the writing majors and the involvement in the literary work from professors. It’s great to have that support.”
Lesmeister answered questions from the crowd after his reading. His main piece of advice, however, was creating deadlines for himself as he wrote.
“That was one of the things that really helped me when I was a student. Create deadlines for yourselves because it’s easy to get off track from what you really want to do,” Lesmeister emphasized. “It’ll help you in the long run.”
The students who attended the event were given inspiration by Lesmeister’s genuineness and honesty.
“He is a very warm and down-to-earth individual,” senior Maria Teets said. “His depth of personal experience and knowledge of human nature are clearly manifest in his fiction writing. If I can be as cool as he is one day, I’ll consider it an accomplishment.”
To learn more about Lesmeister and his book, visit his website.