Leda Levine doesn’t exist, but she’s at Las Positas College. She comes to school with Gavin Cheng-Johnson, Rona Gomez, Liam Stump and plenty others who also aren’t real.
They all follow Karin Spirn, LPC English faculty, everywhere she goes. They’re the main characters of some of her creative writing projects. She keeps a blog of short stories, has self-published two novels and a graduate dissertation about postmodern American literature.
Spirn’s most recent novel, “The Divine Sharpness in the Heart of God,” advanced to become a finalist in New Rivers Press’ Many Voices Project, a competition for emerging creative writers. Only 10 prose pieces were selected from the bunch to advance, and the final winners will be announced by the end of May.
Art changes constantly. Culture, events of its time of creation or individual experiences inspire artists and creatives to form their artwork. Spirn, however, decided not to take her novel topical – instead, she looked at what would last even longer.
“I have always been interested in how people decide what is meaningful in their lives, how they will define themselves,” Spirn said about her inspiration, “so (the subject matter is) a timeless topic for me.”
The novel touches on topics close to Spirn, following an English professor (the aforementioned Cheng-Johnson) who has lost his passion for literature. He trudges on through life, just trying to write his Ph.D. dissertation and get through teaching his classes when he is challenged by a student. Then, he’s led on an intellectual journey making him rethink not only his perspective on life, but the plans he had set for himself as well.
“I thought the business end of being a professor – what types of writing you had to do to get a job, how professors weren’t encouraged to focus on teaching but just on their research – was really depressing,” Spirn said.
She got her Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan, much like her protagonist, Cheng-Johnson, who studies in Indiana in “Divine Sharpness.” The setting is what prompted her to submit the novel to the Many Voices Project in the first place, since the sponsor of the contest is based in Minnesota State University.
Michelle Gonzales, one of Spirn’s fellow English faculty at LPC, is not only a friend listed in the gratitudes on Spirn’s writing blog. She’s also a fan.
“Karin is a great writer whose details about the worlds she creates keep you truly engaged in the story,” Gonzales said. “She is also not afraid to write about people who are different than her. She writes from the perspective of men and people of color that exposes truths about our shared humanity, and she takes care not to overgeneralize or rely on lazy stereotypes.”
The novel took Spirn five years from the first word to completed, current version. She says that the greatest challenge was the ending – something she has completely reworked and rewritten twice.
The ending, of course, meaning the entire last 25% of the manuscript.
“The Divine Sharpness must be read by many. I have always believed that,” said Gonzales.
“It’s really funny and touches on a topic that will hit close to home for many: all the downsides of traditional education, the ivory tower, and power dynamics between men and women, teachers and students, and graduate students and their advisers, and the way in which we can, and should be willing, to learn from those who are younger or less privileged than we are.”
“Divine Sharpness” is currently available on Amazon for Kindle. Some of Spirn’s other works can be found on ledalevine.com.