Montana State University

Glen Chamberlain's award-winning fiction published in book of short stories

September 6, 2011 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


Glen Chamberlain, has earned a reputation as an award-winning writer of fiction, particularly short stories, while teaching composition classes at MSU for the last 21 years. Chamberlain's book of short stories, her first, has been published by Delphinium Books. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Glen Chamberlain finds inspiration in the most disparate of things: owls hunting voles, a child's interest in quantum physics, a crossword puzzle filled out with a dull pencil and the birth of a foal.

The result of those inspirations are stories -- each one a precise and intriguing jewel. Eleven of those stories are woven into Chamberlain's first book, "Conjugation of the Verb To Be," which has been published by Delphinium Books.

The collection has already been well reviewed. Writer Mark Spragg, who lived in Bozeman for a time and met Chamberlain while both were walking on Peet's Hill, says of her book, "Here are stories composed with spare and lovely and graceful prose, patterned by insight, revelation and passion, and finally wisdom."

While fiction readers may know Chamberlain for her stories published in Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal and literary journals such as High Desert Journal, students and staff at Montana State University know her as a teacher of 100 and 200-level composition classes in the MSU Department of Englisn, where she has taught for 21 years.

But she has written for nearly all of her life. Her form of choice is the short story, and her ability to write stories is so superior that she has won several prestigious prizes, including a Pushcart Prize for the best writing in small presses, the Gilcrease Prize for fiction and the Rona Jaffe Award for both fiction and creative nonfiction. The Rona Jaffe Foundation, from whom she received her award in 2001, named her "one of the six most promising women writers in the nation." Chamberlain was unable to travel to the award ceremony when the 9/11 tragedy grounded her flight, which makes the publishing of her book exactly a decade later an interesting coincidence.
Chamberlain said she has tried and is currently trying to write, a novel. But the pacing and character development of the short story seem to fit her and her viewpoint.

"I also love poetry," she said. "I don't write it, but I love the way poets create a mood in so few words."

Even though she is an award-winning writer of growing reputation, she doesn't find it any easier now to write than she did when she first started writing decades ago.

"I sometimes still feel like I'm writing into the void," Chamberlain said. "It's still hard -- I dare myself (to write) with little games."

Such honesty, as well as a sense of humor and intelligence, has long been evident in Chamberlain's personal stories. She said she writes about what she knows, and since she lives in the West, the landscape does permeate the stories. But, she is quick to point out that she is not a Western or "regional" author.

"Western writers take a bad rap," Chamberlain said. "People brand western writers as regional, which I want to avoid. I would like to escape the landscape, but I can't escape it. It seeps into my writing, it's so iconic."

A native of Kansas, Chamberlain graduated from the University of Michigan. She has a master's degree in American Studies from the University of Wyoming and came close to finishing an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington. She and her husband, Tom, found Bozeman more than 30 years ago and are serial residents, she says.

"We've tried living in other places but we've embraced poverty and we're here to stay," she jokes.

Linda Karell, chair of MSU's Department of English, is excited to see Chamberlain's work exposed to a national audience with the publishing of the collection.

"Glen Chamberlain's new stories are gems of wordsmithing," Karrell said. "They are wonderfully provocative and compelling, and they are also nuanced explorations of place. MSU is fortunate to have a writer of her caliber and growing reputation, and I'm thrilled for readers about to experience her work for the first time."

Montanans who haven't experienced Chamberlain's work will be able to do so in person when she reads from "Conjugation of the Verb To Be" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, at the Country Bookshelf in Bozeman.

Glen Chamberlain (406) 994-5258, chamberlain@english.montana.edu