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Cleveland writer Susan Streeter Carpenter reads from counter-culture novel Riders on the Storm

Lisa Viers

Issue date: 12/3/10 Section: Focus
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Susan Streeter Carpenter turned 21 in 1968, a year she describes as "a year unlike any other." It was this year that inspired her to write the novel Riders on the Storm, the story of six young adults living in Cleveland during the tumultuous sixties and seventies. Carpenter read from Riders on the Storm, her newest novel, on Nov. 17 in the Guilford House Parlor. There were around 25 people in attendance, but few were undergraduates. Most of the people who came to see Carpenter talk about and read from her novel were currently Case Western Reserve University faculty or alumni who attended CWRU during the 1960s and 1970s.

Carpenter was introduced by CWRU English Department Chair Mary Grimm. Grimm spoke fondly of Carpenter, saying they had known each other since Grimm started teaching at CWRU.

Carpenter described Riders on the Storm as somewhat autobiographical since she herself graduated from CWRU in 1969 and witnessed many of the events describe in the novel. She believes that "little justice has been done to the 1968-1970 years" and she saw that as a challenge which eventually spurred her to begin writing Riders on the Storm in 2002.

Carpenter cited Sir Walter Scott as setting a pattern in historical novels-the middle-of-the-road hero. She describes this literary figure as someone who tries to take sides but can't, allowing readers to see the whole story. Carpenter stressed how important it is in historical writing to stay true to the historical events but leave the important historical people to the side in order to let the characters interact with the events. While writing Riders on the Storm she "put the fiction first" in order to "convey the texture" of the time she was portraying.

The tone of Riders on the Storm is very energetic. Carpenter read an excerpt that centered on two of the main characters, Ivy and Jane, and their struggle in trying to find their friend Chuck. There was constant shooting going on outside, "the air is dangerous" Ivy said at one point, and they had to move swiftly against houses and garages to avoid being seen and possibly shot. The excerpt strongly portrayed the racial divide that was felt throughout Cleveland during the Black Power movement in the late 1960s and how it affected everyone in the area. Her reading was enlightening to those in the audience who did not live through this era, and it is a well-written and descriptive novel that allows readers to picture the events easily, even if they are not familiar with the place or time.
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