Historical fiction author shares struggles, successes

On Friday afternoon, Geneseo alumna and author Miriam Monfredo spoke to students and faculty in Newton Hall about her work as a historical fiction novelist.

"History, more than any other discipline, teaches us about how to be human. We have an intimate connection with those who came before," Monfredo said. A resident of Pittsford, NY, she centers most of her books on the western New York region. "We have such a rich history here," she remarked. Some notable historical movements that took place in this area were women's rights, abolition, spiritualism and temperance, among others. Monfredo read from one of her nine books, Seneca Falls Inheritance, which focuses on the events of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, a major milestone in the campaign for women's rights.

Though Monfredo's plots are fictional, she often mixes actual historical figures with made-up characters in her work. She explained that when writing a novel, she often does extensive research and then creates a plot from the information that she found. Though she finds that sequencing her story and putting events in their correct historical order is the most difficult thing about her writing, she maintained that "it has to follow history. I try to fill in the blanks, how something might have happened. This is what historical novelists can do - try and bring these people alive again."

Monfredo emphasized the importance of women throughout history. In high school, she was originally turned off to the subject because her teacher "only discussed football, wars, and men," she said. "I was told that women weren't discussed in class, because they did nothing worth talking about." However, Monfredo eventually fell in love with the subject in college after taking classes on women in ancient Greece. Since then, the author has spent a great deal of time researching important women in local history. She cited Mary Jemison, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as several significant figures.

The author's earliest experience with novels was sneaking books off her parents' bookshelf to read in secret. "I had no intentions of becoming a writer," Monfredo claimed. After she began writing in 1988, she wrote her first book and sold it to a publisher without an agent. She warned to aspiring writers, though, to be prepared for "years and years of rejection. It is not an easy life." Monfredo, however, is living proof that it can be done.

Monfredo's visit is a part of the Geneseo Literary Fund and was sponsored by the English, history and women's studies department.