W&L English professor gives author talk on new novel

Leslie Wheeler examines the shifting of power of women as they age in her first fiction novel

Annaliese Schneider

W&L professor and author Leslie Wheeler read from her new novel and discussed inspiration and the uncanny in a Halloween-themed talk.

Wheeler has written five collections of poetry, and her most recent collection, “The State She’s In,” was published earlier this year.

Her first fictional novel, “Unbecoming,” was also published in May.

While Wheeler’s career has centered around poetry, she said writing this novel was a comfort to her.

“I needed to reimagine my life,” she said. “Writing was like falling into a dream, and writing [the book] was what gave me joy in a difficult period of life.”

Aging became a central theme of the novel.

“I was writing at a moment where I felt trapped in my own body, the physicality of the body, of age was primary for me. It might not be the same if I was writing it now,” Wheeler said. “This ended up as much a novel about friendships among women as anything else, and about various stages of what it feels like to be in a female body.”

Wheeler examined the shifting power of women as they age.

By flipping the superhero narrative of a person (usually male) developing powers during adolescence, she was able to envision midlife as a positive turning point.

“Our power is always growing, changing,” she said. “There are cruxes when we are aware of our experience of being in the world, because there are also times when we are able to just glide along, and there are times when we become aware of what power we do or don’t have,” Wheeler said. “I think these hinges of our lives make for really good stories,”

In the spirit of Halloween, Wheeler spoke about “the uncanny,” a trope that appears often in “Unbecoming,” a novel of the magical and mystical.

“My theory is that we’re all aware of the uncanny,” she said. “We have different frameworks for explaining what we can’t understand. Just like the sacred, it is out there and we all see it differently.”