Johanna Stoberock explores fictional worlds during Visiting Writers Reading Series

Sienna Axe, A&E Reporter

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It’s a question out of a fairy tale: what if, instead of accumulating in the ocean or in one of the millions of man-made dumps around the world, all of humanity’s trash washed up on one island? And what if it served as food for giant, magical pigs?

On Thursday, Feb. 6, Senior Adjunct Assistant Professor of English and General Studies Johanna Stoberock read excerpts from her newest, aptly-named novel “Pigs” as part of Whitman’s Visiting Writers Reading Series. Professor Stoberock read the book’s opening chapters, then five short interludes and ended with an audience Q&A.

For Stoberock, the mythos-infused world of “Pigs” didn’t feel like such a departure from the real world.

A lot of the other-worldly elements in ‘Pigs’ are based on fairly simple swerves away from my own, ordinary life. So, for example, the novel starts with a list of things the pigs eat: ‘The pigs ate everything. Kitchen scraps. Bitter lettuce from the garden. The stale and sticky contents of lunch boxes kids brought home from school’ — those are just things that I’m always trying to get rid of around my own house,” Stoberock said. “The world of the novel overlaps with our own world, but is different in notable (and sinister) ways. I think a lot of the odd turns in the book feel like myth because they press up against the ordinary before moving away from it.”

Stoberock also finds that her work writing and teaching greatly influence each other, even down to the Encounters syllabus.

“I can find pretty much every text I’ve taught in Encounters somewhere in ‘Pigs’ and some parts of it feel like a continuation of conversations that started in the classroom,” Stoberock said. “I am very lucky to have students who help me question my assumptions and who help me think about the world with greater care.”

Sophomore Erika Goodman, who has been to four Visiting Writers Reading events (including this one) in her time at Whitman, left fired up about the material.

“The excerpts she read from her novel were so engaging. I bought a copy and I’m so stoked to start it,” Goodman said. “I appreciated her discussion about rule establishing in a story, how to control the pacing of a narrative and the twists and turns of the writing process. The talent of our faculty is absolutely incredible, and I’m so glad it’s not going unnoticed.”

Goodman is looking forward to attending more Visiting Writers Reading events in the future.

First-year John Torres, who wasn’t previously aware of Stoberock as a professor, found her to be an “eloquent speaker,” and found the premise of “Pigs” — and its allusions — intriguing.

“’Pigs’ sounds like it has an interesting setting to it,” Torres said, “[but] what really stuck with me was the allusion to ‘Lord of the Flies,’ which made me get an idea of where the story got its inspiration.”

Torres doesn’t plan on attending any more Visiting Writers Reading events in the future, but was pleased with the planning and duration of the event.

Stoberock hopes that attendees and readers alike can pull even more from “Pigs” than the material itself.

“I hope [the event] helped [the audience] start, or continue, thinking about how fiction is made,” Stoberock said. “And if they read the full book, I hope they get some pleasure from it. It’s dark, but it’s not meant to be didactic.”

“Pigs” is available to purchase at the Whitman College bookstore, as well as wherever books are sold.