Author Robin Oliveira read from her debut novel, “My Name is Mary Sutter,” Nov. 10 in Nicholson Library.
Oliveira’s historical fiction novel is set during the Civil War period and revolves around Mary Sutter, a midwife who aspires to become a surgeon despite the obstacles women face in medicine. She travels to Washington, D.C., to escape heartbreak and chase her dream. Two surgeons unwittingly fall in love with her courage and guide her as she continues on her journey despite her mother’s pleas for her to return for the birth of her twin sister’s baby.
“I like a really big, complex book. I like lots of subplots, lots of things going on,” Oliveira said.
The idea for her novel began with a vision Oliveira had of a woman, bent over a microscope, surrounded by books and specimen jars. Oliveira said that when she discovered 17 women became physicians after nursing during the Civil War, Mary’s story was formed.
Oliveira consulted newspapers, textbooks, manuals and journals to create a realistic existence for her character and to understand the time period. Her deep research and comprehension of the era was evident in her novel’s presentation.
“It was very insightful and showed the experience of a true published writer,” sophomore Amanda Hiland said. “[It] wasn’t just gossamer words. She really knew about the hard life of a writer and the sacrifices you have to make to write a book.”
“My Name is Mary Sutter” has garnered significant recognition since it was published in May. Among its honors, it was selected for O Magazine’s summer reading list.
Oliveira’s attention to factual detail gained praise from the Journal of the American Medical Association. While the novel was still a work-in-progress, it won her the James Jones First Novel Fellowship in 2007.
Oliveira holds a Bachelor of Arts in Russian and a Master of Fine Arts in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is also a registered nurse. Oliveira works as the fiction editor for a literary magazine called Upstreet and is a former assistant editor of Narrative Magazine.
Oliveira grew up near Albany, N.Y., from which her novel’s heroine traces her roots. She currently lives in Seattle and is the mother of Linfield junior Miles Oliveira.
“In terms of a long term novelist, I studied how to write when Miles was 5 years old,” Oliveira said, whose son obliged and stood to be recognized by the audience.
Gabi Nygaard/Staff reporter
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