The Best Selling Author in Oakland

by Claire Syler

Perhaps you have had the pleasure of taking a course with Professor Kathleen George. Or, maybe you have read one of her many books (after all, she has written three scholarly theatre texts and more than ten works of fiction). But, what you may not know about the Department of Theatre Arts professor is that she is also the best selling fiction writer in Oakland. According to the University Store on Fifth, Dr. George’s prolific collection of mysteries and novels consistently sells above the rest. I recently sat down with Professor George to learn more about her newest novel, the overlap between theatre and fiction, and what keeps her imagination flowing.

Kathy’s current project is a novel, which takes place between 1936-1946 and is set against the backdrop of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the wider city, and Hollywood. At this stage in the writing process, she is hesitant to tell too much, acknowledging “many fiction writers say that if you talk about the work too early then you give away the tension that lives inside you and it becomes more work to re-capture that energy.” But, Kathy did say that the narrative is big, fun, and partially informed by listening to the stories of an elderly woman who grew up in the Hill. “Her life fueled my imagination and she was generous enough to share it with me.”

Because a novelist builds narratives for an audience in ways that are similar to the work of a playwright, I asked Kathy about the interplay between fiction and drama. This literary intersection is a significant node in Kathy’s substantial expertise, as it was the focus of her 2005 scholarly book, Winter’s Tales: Reflections on the Novelistic Stage. Emphasizing the explicit “doubleness” of both forms of literature, Kathy noted “my conviction is that under all stories there are cross purposes at work.” Indeed, both genres feature characters who do not say exactly what they mean, events that are multi-perspectival, and misunderstandings which give rise to competing factions. And, of course, these varying layers must be distilled onto the page through vivid, precise language told from a compelling voice.

The performative nature of language in varying forms—spoken utterances, poetry, drama, and prose—has always been at the forefront of Kathy’s interest in writing. In our conversation she emphasized the importance of listening to, and carefully observing, the social world as a means to sustain her imaginative impulses: “as a writer you use everything around you.” Kathy’s close attention to words, voices, and people also makes her an excellent teacher. As she nurtures novices to develop their own texts, Kathy says she is reminded that all writers struggle with containing the complexities of language. So, it seems, much like the interplay between the different literary genres from which she borrows and mends, Kathy’s writing is powered by her intersecting engagements with language and performance.  

To learn more about Professor Kathleen George, or to purchase your own copy of one of her books, head to the University Store on Fifth or her personal website.