Pete Dexter will visit Kelly Writers House

The Daily Pennsylvanian
September 30, 2009

It took a severe physical beating to convert writer Pete Dexter from newspaper reporting to fiction writing, but he seems to have found his niche.

The prominent author, who has written eight books, four Hollywood screen plays and won the National Book Award in the last 26 years, will visit Penn today. He will speak at a luncheon at the Kelly Writers House, which is scheduled for noon and open to all students and community members.

Dexter began his career as a reporter for various newspapers including The Philadelphia Daily News and The Sacramento Bee. In 1981, Dexter was beaten with baseball bats in the neighborhood of Grays Ferry by 30 drunken men who were upset about one of his recent columns. Dexter was hospitalized with several injuries, including brain damage, dental devastation and a broken back and pelvic bone.

This incident spurred Dexter to give up reporting and become a fiction writer.

Some of Dexter's most famous works over the years include his novel, Paris Trout, which won the National Book Award, and the screenplay Michael, which became a movie starring John Travolta.

Dexter is in Philadelphia this week to promote his latest novel, Spooner, a semi-autobiographical novel, whose protagonist survives a similar beating to that which Dexter himself experienced.

As an author, Dexter "became prominent pretty quickly," said Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and Penn artist-in-residence Dick Polman.

Polman, who organized the event, is using Dexter as the subject for a writing assignment in his ENGL 158: Advanced Journalistic Writing class.

Polman said he expects Dexter to discuss the process involved in writing both fiction and nonfiction, the advantages and disadvantages of both and the challenges of living the life of a writer.

One of Polman's students, College senior Kiley Austin-Young, said he is hoping to learn about the editing process during the luncheon.

"[Dexter] spent seven years writing his latest novel and his editors told him he had to cut out 250 pages," said Austin-Young. "That represented like three years of his life."

Polman said he hopes Dexter will inspire the students who attend the event,

"It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of overcoming disappointment in order to make it [as a writer]," Polman added. "I'm assuming just exposing students to prominent people who fight those fights is worthwhile."