Alena Graedon’s Dystopian World

Alena Graedon's WorldAn apartment fire that burned her books inspired the theme of Alena Graedon’s first novel, The Word Exchange. A dictionary gifted by her parents influenced the first scene. A family of readers and a mother who read aloud stories gave her an appreciation for science fiction and fantasy. These are just some of the life experiences that shaped Graedon into the writer she is today.

Graedon, an assistant professor of English and creative writing, shared her journey as an author. She published The Word Exchange in 2014. The science fiction novel centers around a futuristic alternate reality where a virus spread from machines to humans makes communication impossible.

“It’s sort of an allegory, but it’s also meant to be really represented in the novel in practical terms,” Graedon said.

“I got the idea for it because I watched this shift from the way we used to interact with text and language and communicate with each other, and then it changed and became heavily influenced by new digital technologies, and it made me think about what would happen if it was possible to actually manipulate language,” she continued.

Graedon’s appreciation and expertise in the craft of writing not only has the power to drive an allegorical novel, but it also has the power to inspire students in her creative writing classes. The way she structures her class is especially impactful for students; she engages the class in workshops that allow students to share their input on others’ stories.

“There’s so much value to her teaching style. It gets myself thinking about things; I find it eye-opening to see people’s different responses to my work,” said Melissa Lauria, a sophomore English, creative writing, student.

“I definitely think that we come to class with a certain amount of bias, whether that be our own work or other people’s work, and so seeing different lights and different viewpoints help me as writer to create different characters. The class is both basic yet insightful, and it’s interesting to study things that I haven’t really examined before,” Lauria added.

Personally, I appreciate how her teaching style brings writers together. In Introduction to Creative Writing, we’re all being introduced to each other’s writing styles and getting inspiration from them, which is the best thing about Graedon’s class.

In the past, I’ve never received the opportunity to have so many fellow writers respond to my work with a variety of input. It really allows me to strengthen my writing skills and reflect upon what works in my stories and what does not.

“As a writer in her class, she assigns a lot of reading, which I think is equally as important, or even more important than writing because you read a lot of different styles and voices and that’s how you learn to write. You’re trying to learn about as many different voices as you can so that you can begin to develop one that works for you, said Jane Lai, a senior English, creative writing, student.

“In a good way, we put our own spin while using the voice of another author. It lets us experiment all the time,” Lai continued.

The connection between Graedon’s experience as an author and as a creative writing professor not only gives insight to her students, but also to Graedon herself. “I love teaching, and I always have. I went to a small school growing up in the south that was very focused on peer collaboration. Teaching is just something that I think of as very much a part of my identity and as much a part of my aspirations for my career,” Graedon said.

“The things I think I like the most is when students in my classes can teach and show each other. That is the most gratifying moment, when people can figure stuff out for themselves,” Graedon shared.

While inspiring her students, Graedon is also anticipating her future works. “I’m working on a second novel now, and I just recently put together a research plan for a third novel,” she said.

Graedon inspires her students and readers alike to persist in whatever craft they pursue. She heavily advises students to keep focusing on their work, no matter what.

“I had a professor who was really influential on me who advised no matter what’s happening in the background of your career, whether it’s going wonderfully or horribly, try to shut all of that out and pay attention to the words in front of you,” she said.

Graedon proudly passes along the advice of her professor, allowing students to take as many risks in their writing without worrying about criticism and how the world perceives their writing.

Words are very important tools; they even appear as the main theme of her novel. Graedon stresses to writers and artists alike, “We’re creators, so we have to create.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth University