When asked who or what gives author Alexandra Fuller the right to tell the story of someone else’s life, she replied, “A writer can shoot for lofty goals, no one is stopping me, so why not? I’m right because I have the right to do so.”
Fuller was front and center on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Alma McDonough Auditorium as part of the College’s Esbenshade Series—it also served as part of the College’s annual theme of Energy & Environment. She navigated the audience on a journey through her troubled childhood in Zimbabwe, eventual move to the United States, and most importantly the explanation of her controversial novel, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant.
The book served as this year’s Common Reading Program assignment for all incoming freshman, which was to be completed before their arrival on campus for the fall semester. The novel tells the story of Colton H. Bryant, a young Wyoming cowboy turned oil field worker who tragically lost his life while on a rig. He was an average boy with a below average mind, but Fuller admits to falling in love with his story. After meeting with his family, hearing of his roadside birth, connecting with his friends and community; Fuller artistically became Colton’s voice.
Controversy arises in whether or not this work is truly nonfiction. The book is full of descriptive narrative and thoughtful descriptions, but the reader is consistently left to wonder: How could she know that?
“It bordered the line of nonfiction and fiction, and then suddenly would give you the feeling of fiction when she gave details or situational accounts,” said Ben Federici ’13 (Findlay, Ohio). “It really took away from the book in my opinion.”
Penelope Smith ’15 (Pittsburgh, Pa.) found it difficult to connect with Colton’s character and aired her feelings to Fuller.
“I felt his character was one-dimensional and impossible to relate to,” she said. “I found it impossible to get a true feeling of who he was.”
Fuller attempted to clear up any doubt regarding Colton and how she portrayed him.
“I interviewed everyone that knew him,” she said. “I interviewed his family, his best friends, co-workers, and even a Walmart employee. This is how they portrayed him and explained who he was to me.”
Unlike Smith, Andrew Matakovich ’15 (Amherst, Ohio) related to Colton’s character and Fuller’s portrayal.
“I actually connected with him and was intrigued by his life,” he said. “I struggle with ADHD as well and although the criticism he received was harsh, I understand what he went through.”
Fuller admitted that during the writing process, she was focused day and night on Bryant and his story. She strived to piece together his life and even stayed on a ranch for the winter to get an idea of what life is like for a Wyoming cowboy.
She is also an environmentalist and is currently pushing for safer work conditions and regulations at the oil fields.
Deriding the Wyoming oil industry, which drives the states income, could have been troublesome for Fuller.
“I was more nervous to get the story right, but I knew I would receive backlash from the oil and gas companies,” she said.
Another topic of debate on the minds of some students was including “legend” in the title. After all, Bryant seemed to be an average Wyoming boy. How was he a legend?
“I contemplated a title for a long period of time and legend kept coming back to me and coming back to me,” Fuller said. “It was more personal and what he meant to me.”
Not all of the feedback was negative from the students.
“I really enjoyed the book and honestly it was the first book that I was looking forward to picking up again and again,” said Stefan Purington ’15 (Columbus, Ohio).
“I felt that the book was an easy read and I didn’t have a problem with her style or how she portrayed Colton,” said Ethan Kozel ’15 (St. Clairsville, Ohio).
By the end of her speech, the auditorium remained captivated. She left the audience with something inspiring to think about.
“I never had the freedom of speech growing up, but instead I was told that loose lips cost lives,” Fuller said. “Freedom of speech is the greatest right and you can stand up and speak out without the fear of punishment and the only thing that may come from being outspoken is debate.”