Q&A | Get to Know "Silence" Author William Carpenter
Updated: Apr 25, 2022
William Carpenter grew up in Waterville, Maine, graduated from Dartmouth College, and earned a PhD at the University of Minnesota. He taught at the University of Chicago, then returned to Maine to help found the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, where he taught for 48 years. He is the recipient of the Pablo Neruda award, the Black Warrior award, and the AWP award in poetry. His previous novels are A Keeper of Sheep, set on Cape Cod in the 1980s, and The Wooden Nickel, set in a Maine Coast lobstering community. He and the writer Donna Gold live in an old coastal inn and spend summers exploring Maine islands in their family sloop, Northern Light.
With the recent release of his latest novel, Silence, Carpenter answers your questions regarding his writing process, his career in education, and the themes featured in his book.
You’ve taught a myriad of subjects over the years at the College of the Atlantic, including literature, creative writing, history, film, poetry, and Maine mythology. Which was your favorite and why?
Two of my favorite courses were called “Aesthetics of Violence” and “The Turn of the Century.” “Aesthetics of Violence” focused on the human capacity to transform violence and terror into works of art, beginning with Aristotle’s theory of tragedy and Rene Girard’s theory of sacrifice. Is violence always the opposite of beauty or can they both be present in the same act? At the time anyway, I believe this was a unique course in American colleges; though a friend offered a version of it later at Dartmouth.
The second favorite was a contemporary history course called “Turn of the Century” that we offered between 1999 and 2010. It covered the transition between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including 9/11/2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. I asked my students why they weren’t protesting the Iraq invasion the way we protested Vietnam. Their answer was, “they’re not drafting us anymore.” I realized how clever the government was in covering up the war by using an “all-volunteer” army drawn largely from volunteers from the working class and not the colleges. It also further divided the country in ways that are echoed in the book and continue to be played out today in politics.
Those two courses eventually led to the novel Silence, which examines the effects of 9/11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom on two young people from different social backgrounds on the coast of Maine. I used an offshore island to focus and intensify these two events and show how they impacted even a remote rural state.
You write both poetry and novels, which do you prefer and why?
I started off writing poetry, but my poems got longer and longer and eventually outgrew the page and became novels. For what I had to say in terms of class conflict in Wooden Nickel and Silence, I prefer the novel because its multiple characters allow you explore the relationships between people as well as their individual lives. I realize I carry the habits of poetry into my prose. My characters use a lot of metaphors to examine their inner thoughts and motivations.
This book deals with PTSD. How did you research it to write so authentically about it?