Author Susan Cheever visits Kelly Writers House

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 14, 2011

Susan Cheever, who authored a biography of author Louisa May Alcott, spoke at the Kelly Writers House Monday as part of the Writers House Fellows Program.
(Bridget McGeehan/DP Staff Photographer)

Guests spilled out of the Arts Cafe and into the living room of the Kelly Writers House to share their Valentine's Day with an acclaimed author.

"Our Valentine for today is Susan Cheever," said Al Filreis, faculty director of the Writers House, as he introduced Cheever – who authored Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography – Monday night.

The Writers House brought Cheever to Penn as a featured author as part of the annual Writers House Fellows Program, established to enable real, extended interaction between Penn undergraduate students and eminent writers.

Cheever expressed her delight to visit the Writers House and share her work with students. "It's as if I was in a fatal car crash today, died and came to heaven," Cheever began.

She discussed her book about the successful author of Little Women. Alcott, she told the audience, was once told to "stick to your teaching... You can't write."

Cheever spoke about how Alcott persevered through criticism, and encouraged those in attendance to do the same. "Nobody knows what circumstances make a great book &ndash especially the writer," Cheever said. "If you're somebody who when criticized says, 'I'll show them,' then you have a good shot."

"She refused to be pinned down, which is partly why we wanted to bring her to the Writers House," Jamie-Lee Josselyn, the coordinator of the Fellows Program, wrote in an e-mail.

Cheever also spoke to her interest in "the tension between accident and destiny" and how creativity stems from the desire to prove critics wrong.

"It gives me a lot to think about in the context of what drives writing," said College sophomore Lianna Brenner, who was encouraged to attend the event by her creative writing class.

Filreis, who taught a course on Cheever's work in a Kelly Writers House Fellows Seminar – a class offered each spring that studies the three Fellows in-depth – wrote in an e-mail that "it's rare to know a writer as well as we have through her books."

On Monday, the class spent three hours with Cheever prior to the event. The Fellows class presented Cheever with a donation of approximately $300 to the Orchard House, the historic home of Louisa May Alcott.

College freshman Kate Herzlin, a student in Fellows, described the class as "very intense," adding that topics broached included life, optimism and addiction. "[Cheever] was open and willing to learn from us," she added.