A writer takes up residence

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

For Laura Young, who just published her first novel, writing is a disciplined practice. She teaches American Lit to high school juniors in the morning, then researches, writes and edits from late morning to 2 p.m. each day. And now, as the new Writer in Residence at the Hemingway Foundation, she has a dedicated space to work on her craft — the attic writing space in the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park.

Young, who has taught at Oak Park and River Forest High School since 2006, job-shares with another English teacher. At 3 p.m. daily, the mother of two elementary-school-age daughters, picks her children up from school.

Her writing time is her own, however, with a place to focus and be productive since the designation was announced last May.

"It gives me a quiet space to work with no interruptions," she said. "Like Virginia Woolf said, 'A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.'"

Young's first novel, The Ways, was published this month as an eBook and paperback.

It took three years. She is writing her second novel, The Butcher, during her time at the Hemingway Home. Young describes her novels as "speculative feminist fiction."

"It's an imagined future, rooted in reality where everything exists in some way, but it's the worst-case scenario," said Young, who lives in Oak Park. "And there are feminist themes — reproductive rights, other rights that affect women."

While the dystopian world Young paints in her fiction includes women relinquishing their children at age 5, as in The Ways, or sanctioned torture in her latest work, Young said she is nothing like the tone of these writings in her real life and people who know her are often surprised when they find out what she pens.

In addition to her three-year tenure with the Hemingway Foundation, Young has also weighed in on programming, suggesting a "one book, one village" read of The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway, along with lectures to discuss the stories and topics "that surround Hemingway, such as toxic masculinity, PTSD, gender, and race," she said.

The Hemingway Foundation is calling the series for 2019-20, "A Moveable Read: Hemingway in the 21st Century." It will feature "guest speakers discussing specific short stories and interrelated topics of today," according to Executive Director Keith Strom. "A craft talk will take place at the end of each discussion."

Interacting with others is also part of being the Hemingway Foundation Writer in Residence. When tours come through the Birthplace Home, guests are curious about Young's writing, which she gladly talks about with them.

While Young finds OPRF a great place to work, her interactions with teens doesn't end there. Her post as Writer in Residence will also include a teen-focused assignment — acting as a mentor to the student who writes the winning essay in the Hemingway Foundation's scholarship writing contest for incoming seniors at Oak Park and River Forest High School. In past summers, she has also led college essay writing intensives at the Oak Park Public Library.

Young has written and published her own creative nonfiction essays on the topic of motherhood and depression.

"I suffered from chronic depression my whole life and then from post-partum depression," Young said. "It's part of who I am, but I didn't have a name for it. When I figured it out, writing was a way to deal with how I was feeling."

"I write to help others and normalize it," she added. "It can happen to anyone at any time. I made a point to talk about it. We learn empathy when we hear the stories of others."

Laura Young's first novel, "The Ways," is available through Amazon. The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum is located at 339 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park. More: hemingwaybirthplace.com.

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