Kate Bernheimer brings fairy-tale magic with fiction reading

Once upon a time, on a warm April day, a Sherwood Anderson Distinguished Visiting Writer arrived and brought with her fairy-tales for all.

On April 3, Guilford College hosted author and distinguished writer Kate Bernheimer, known for her book “The Girl In The Castle Inside The Museum” and her work as editor of the collections “My Mother She Killed Me”, “My Father He Ate Me” and “XO Orpheus.” As part of her campus visit, Bernheimer sat down with members of the Sherwood Anderson writers program, and hosted a workshop and fiction reading open to all members of the Guilford community.

The workshop that Bernheimer held was centered around fairy-tale techniques and the art of adaptation. Hosted in the community center, students and professors alike gathered to hear about Bernheimer’s experiences in fairy-tale writing and attempted to rewrite some of Bernheimer’s favorite tales. These fairy-tales ranged from the Grimm Brothers’ “The Rosebud Princes” to “Friendly Animals 1 & 2.” Bernheimer began by breaking down four common building blocks of the fairy-tale narrative that are present in nearly all popular examples. From “everyday magic” to the having a “happy ending,” attendees were invited to reassess their understandings of what goes into our favorite bedtime stories.

“There’s a flatness to fairy-tale characters, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” said Bernheimer.

Bernheimer also highlighted some of the many narrative techniques she has used in the past. Bernheimer explained that chance for variation and individuality that the comes with each reimagined fairy-tale, is made possible by the perceived “flatness” of those within it. After a brief break to create retold fairy-tales of their own, many attendees chose to share their unique and inventive stories with each other. Ranging from oatmeal-cookie-loving birds to gifting crowns made of flowers and bees, these stories emphasized the magic and imagination that Bernheimer worked to inspire in workshop attendees.

Later that evening, Bernheimer held a community fiction reading in the Hege Library Art Gallery. At this community fiction reading, Bernheimer read excerpts from some of her stories spanning the body of her work. Reimaginings titled, “The Punks Bride” and “How a Mother Weaned a Girl from Fairy Tales” filled the air as attendees followed along and digested the imaginative language that Bernheimer employed in her works. These stories aimed to be full of life and rich with humor, with elements that were common with classic fairy-tales as well as elements that were unique to Bernheimer’s writing style. Between readings, Bernheimer described her path to writing fairy-tales and mused on the what she perceived as an indescribable horror of “Goodnight Moon.”

“‘Goodnight Nobody, Goodnight Air, ’I mean, what’s creepier than that?” Bernheimer said.

Following her readings Kate Bernheimer answered questions from the eager audience, who asked about sources of inspiration to the effort that writing a fairy-tale entails. Bernheimer responded with her own personal assessments and reflections. She also described an aesthetic theory of fairy-tale as an idea that you know a fairy-tale when you find yourself in one, and that once open to that idea you begin to notice them everywhere.