SMC professor Tupelo Hassman kicks off Spring Literary Series with "Girlchild"

It has been ten years since she was last here, and much has changed since. Back then, she was sitting in the audience. Today, she is the reason they are all here. Tupelo Hassman, critically acclaimed author of “Girlchild” and Santa Monica College English instructor, spoke to an almost full main campus lecture hall last Thursday to begin SMC’s Spring Literary Series.

“The first thing I’m not going to do today is cry, because ten years ago I graduated from Santa Monica College,” said Hassman.

For Hassman, who never graduated from high school, graduating from SMC was her first step to achieving success as an author. Released only a month ago, her debut novel is already in its third printing.

“When I first considered myself a writer, I went to USC from SMC,” said Hassman. “I was a first-generation college student and class divides were in my face. It was where the book was born. Not that everyone there is privileged. I certainly wasn’t, and I had been working full time since I was 15. I had a culture shock.”

As she read parts of her novel at the lecture, the almost poetic language of the otherwise soft-spoken Hassman drew the audience into the Calle, a trailer park community outside of Reno, Nev. In the Calle, the audience was introduced to the narrator Rory Dawn Hendrix, the “feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded daughter, herself the product of feebleminded stock.”

“She’s kind of academically gifted, if you like that term,” Hassman said. “I don’t, but it’s popular.”

As Hassman read about some of Rory Dawn’s school experiences, the crowd became enchanted by the voice of the young narrator.

“This is fiction, although it’s a first novel and the first novel trap is to write about your life,” Hassman said. “So Rory and I started out a lot the same, but now we’re not the same anymore. She does things I never did and she’s bolder than I’ve ever been.”

The harsh world in which Rory Dawn grows up has led people to compare her to some of Hassman’s own favorites.

“There is a list of people that Rory Dawn has been compared to, and that list makes me so happy, because it includes so many of my influences,” Hassman said, when asked about her literary inspirations.

This list includes Charlie Bucket in Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Matilda, another Dahl character, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.

Other sources of inspiration include two of her former teachers at SMC.

“If it weren’t for a couple of people in this room, I really doubt that I would be where I am today,” Hassman said. “Judith Remmes is one of those people. The other person is Jim Krusoe, who was my first writing teacher.”

Hassman met Remmes when she took English 2 online, the same class that Hassman now teaches.

“In the impersonal and somewhat anonymous world of an online class, her voice just leapt over the screen,” Remmes said, as she introduced Hassman to the audience in the beginning of the lecture. “Now she is sending it out to a far, wider audience, and I’m very excited about that.”

Judy Neveau, community relations director at SMC, is in charge of the Literary Series.

“It was a good crowd,” Neveau said about the lecture. “We don't always get this many, so this was indicative. I think this one was a passion.”

Ember Knight was one of many SMC students in attendance at the lecture.

“Jim Krusoe is my professor,” Knight said. “He recommended that I come here. I actually felt sick today when I got off the bus, and I won’t be going to work, but I thought I should come here anyway since I said I would, and I’m glad I did. It was excellent.”