Author shares life-inspired stories at SDSU

by Lauren Spinelli , Staff Writer

San Diego State hosted author Toni Jensen last Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Love Library as part of the Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series.

At the event, made possible by the Laurie Okuma Memorial Reading, Jensen read her award-winning story “At the Powwow Hotel,” which is completely written in prose, repeated phrases and sentence fragments. Jensen said the idea to write the story in sentence fragments came from a college professor who was known for assigning strange projects to his classes.

Jensen said “At the Powwow Hotel” was written in an afternoon at a coffee shop in Lubbock, Texas. She had the ideas for a story in her head for months, but it was written that day.

The story was “a gift that came fully formed,” she said

The plot behind “At the Powwow Hotel” derived from a true story Jensen heard from an old boyfriend. He lived in west Texas and went to an old hotel with his friends all the time and some of his friends were arrested one night for trespassing.

“At the Powwow Hotel” is part of Jensen’s “From the Hilltop,” a collection of linked stories published through the University of Nebraska Press. Jensen tells stories that reference American Indian oral traditions and her own Métis upbringing, according to the University of Arkansas website.

Jensen’s stories seem to be revolved around one town or place. The author attributes this to growing up in a small town in Iowa and not really moving around until she was an adult.

“I’m interested in how places shift around over time,” Jensen said. “The first question I ask is, ‘Where are you from?’”

Jensen said her work was influenced by author Louise Erdrich, who writes novels, poetry, and children’s books featuring Native American characters and settings, according to the Poetry Foundation. Jensen has often been compared to Erdrich in her career.

Jensen describes her writing style as “formally experimental” to explain the types of stories found in “From the Hilltop.”

“Different stories call for different forms,” Jensen said.

The author is working on new projects, including a novel, “The Space Coast,” based around the 2008 recession and set in central Florida. The novel specifically focuses on military soldiers coming home to changing times and NASA shutting down, resulting in a loss of jobs and foreclosures, Jensen said.

She is also working on a novel called “Heart of Lubbock,” which is a Texas-based story about the socio-economical depression in the area and the problems with the drought conditions.