Kelly Kerney ’02 visited Bowdoin on Tuesday to read from her recently published novel, “Hard Red Spring.” The book addresses the complicated and tragic history of American involvement in Guatemala through the lens of four women. 

“A remarkable book by a remarkable writer, and I’m proud to say she’s one of our own,” said Professor of English Brock Clarke in his introduction of the event.

Split into four sections, each offers the perspective of a different female protagonist within in a different time period in the South American nation’s twentieth century. Standing at a podium in the Faculty Room of Massachusetts Hall, Kerney read an excerpt of her book and then took questions from the assembled students and faculty.   

Tuesday’s campus visit marks Kerney’s second event at Bowdoin; she read from her debut novel, “Born Again,” following its publication in 2006.

Coming to the College as a student from a sheltered and highly religious childhood in Ohio, Kerney said her Bowdoin education provided the backbone for what would become her literary career.

“I came to Bowdoin really, really unprepared for college,” she said in a phone interview with the Orient. “I’d never written a paper before and I didn’t know what half the things in the course catalogue were.”

One of the courses that piqued her interest was a course on the modern history of Latin America. It was this class that would not only provide the inspiration for “Hard Red Spring,” but also revolutionize Kerney’s worldview. After that first year at Bowdoin, Kerney said she knew she wanted to write about the relationship between the United States and Latin America.
Kerney also credits Bowdoin’s Department of English with teaching her the skills necessary for a career in writing. 

“I truly believe that 90 percent of writing is reading, and I learned this here [at Bowdoin],” she said.

Writer-in-Residence Anthony Walton worked with Kerney in class and in her honors project in creative writing. He said Kerney improved as a writer “week by week,” and was always enthusiastic about what she was learning. 

“That sort of student is always exciting, because as a professor you have to keep pushing to ‘stay ahead’ of the student,” Walton wrote in an email to the Orient. “It’s a challenge of the best kind, as you are not only challenging the student but being challenged by her.”

Published by Penguin Random House, “Hard Red Spring” has received positive reviews from a variety of sources including Publisher’s Weekly and The New Yorker, which called the novel “ambitious” and “rewarding.” 

Kerney said she hopes the novel will educate readers and encourage them to connect emotionally with the historically significant subject matter. Savannah Horton ’17 attended the reading and said that though she didn’t know what to expect at the outset of the event, she enjoyed hearing about Kerney’s career and inspiration for the book. 

“It was very exciting to hear from a Bowdoin graduate who was so successful in writing,” Horton said.  

Kerney’s most important advice to Bowdoin students interested in writing is to set aside time to write. 

“In the end, writing is still you and the page, and you’ve got to give that time,” she said.