By Erin Keating
Darcey Steinke held a reading for her new novel, Sister Golden Hair, at 7:30 on November 6, in the Wortmann Ballroom. The author of five novels and a memoir, as well as a professor at the New School in New York and Columbia, grew up in Roanoke and said that she has close ties with Roanoke College. Sister Golden Hair follows the life of Jesse, who moves to Roanoke with her family in 1972 after her father loses his job. Displaying Jesse’s life from the age of twelve through sixteen, Steinke captures what it was like to grow up in Roanoke during the seventies— the Bent Tree housing development where Jesse lives is based on the Sugarloaf development in Roanoke where Steinke lived.
Steinke’s daughter was going through her adolescent years when Steinke started to work on Sister Golden Hair, and it reminded her how challenging puberty is for females. Something that Steinke wanted to focus on was the conflict between sexuality and religion during those transitional years. Steinke herself is very familiar with this conflict as a minister’s daughter, similar to Jesse. Another focus was relationships between females, specifically friendships or role models. Instead of using years to mark Jesse’s growth, Steinke focuses on Jesse’s periods of friendships with other girls and chapters with names such as Sandy, Jill, Julie, and Sheila to reflect whom Jesse is friends with at the time.
After discussing some of her inspirations for Sister Golden Hair, Steinke read from the first chapter of the book, which has received stellar reviews from various authors including Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. Following the reading, refreshments were served and the audience had time to speak with Steinke to ask questions and get books signed. Earlier in the day, Steinke met with students in Commons for lunch so that they could ask her questions and talk, and another meeting was held in Monterey House in the afternoon. As an advocate for building writing communities, Steinke says that the best way to become a better writer is to become a better “literary citizen” by attending readings and supporting other writers on social media or buying their books. Because publishing is changing so drastically and top publishers have less power than they used to, it is important for aspiring writers to start building a foundation for themselves in this new writing community.