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‘In the Amber Chamber’: Scarborough Society Lecture presents book by Shepherd University professor

By Staff | Nov 29, 2019

Scarborough Society member Lex Miller, on the left, talks with Shepherd University Associate Professor of English Carrie Messenger after her Scarborough Society Lecture on Nov. 19. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Today, Carrie Messenger is an associate professor of English at Shepherd University and published author. But, several years ago, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova and a Fulbright scholar in Romania. Messenger’s experience in eastern Europe influenced many of her thoughts about the world, and left her with some unforgettable memories that she knew she had to share with the world.

Since many of those memories included both bad and good experiences, Messenger knew they would work well, crafted into fairytale stories.

“I don’t feel guilty for my interest in fairytales, but in my interest in crime,” Messenger said, with a laugh, while talking about her collection of short stories about her travels at the second Scarborough Society Lecture of the 2019-2020 school year.

Messenger’s chosen story from her award-winning book, “In the Amber Chamber,” revealed her brush with a man in the child pornography industry, which she said fit perfectly with the fairytale genre.

“In fairytales, there’s usually no psychological reason for their actions — they just snap,” Messenger said, of fairytale villains.

Shepherd University Associate Professor of English Carrie Messenger listens as Laura Renninger, the dean of Teaching, Learning and Instructional Resources at Shepherd, introduces her in the Scarborough Library Reading Room on Nov. 19. Tabitha Johnston

Another fairytale in the book is based on a German fairytale and inspired by Messenger’s work in eastern European orphanages.

“In this collection, there’s a story that’s based on ‘Hansel and Gretel,'” Messenger said. “We were constantly getting the children in the orphanage to do things for candy, such as memorize English verbs. They could be easily motivated to do things for candy.”

While Messenger said she briefly tried writing what might have been considered more serious writing, she realized her talent for writing lay with the genre she had loved the most — and the longest.

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with fairytales. I even had a book of Russian fairytales,” Messenger said. “I was just drawn to fairytales as a kid. Reading them, I never wanted to stop.

“When I was in college, I was trying to write serious stories about couples, like in The New Yorker,” Messenger said. “Over time, I realized I didn’t need to write what I thought I needed to write.”

According to Messenger, the main challenge of selling her book has been that short story collections don’t sell as well as novels. But Messenger believes in her skills as a writer of fairytales, and rightfully so, since her book won the 2017 Brighthorse Prize for Short Fiction.

“I love stories and tales, and although I love reading novels, too, I love the format of short stories,” Messenger said. “They’re sort of in the same position right now as poetry has been for a while.”

Messenger’s book can be purchased at Four Seasons Books or online.