Janet Fitch’s mega-bestselling 1999 debut novel “White Oleander” makes her well qualified to lead the April 5 to 7 Spring Writers Retreat (idyllwildarts.org/spring-writers-retreat/) on the Idyllwild Arts campus.
The course description promises an attempt to “reinforce participants’ connection with their creative sources, and explore aspects of craft,” and the craft that Fitch lavished on “White Oleander” wasn’t the only thing that made it an Oprah’s Book Club selection.
The protagonist and narrator, 13-year-old Astrid Magnussen, gets placed with a succession of brilliantly characterized Los Angeles foster families after her mother goes to prison for killing an ex-lover. If the pain of the worst family drama is something many of us would like to avoid and forget, it’s also a source of creativity for an artist brave enough to explore that pain in order to understand and overcome it.
Kirkus Reviews found many virtues in “White Oleander,” including its “panorama of late 20th-century American life.” Fitch also portrayed late 20th-century American life in “Paint It Black” (2006), focusing again on Los Angeles, but this time on the anarchic punk-rock scene of the ’80s.
And Fitch’s most recent novel, 2017’s “The Revolution of Marina M.,” while journeying half a world away from Los Angeles to the Russian Revolution, is even more panoramic than “White Oleander” in its sweeping view of one of the most decisive moments of the last century.
All three of her novels show the unflinching artistic courage that first emerged in “White Oleander.” She is an author not afraid to probe the wounds of a broken family, of young people drawn to extremes of action and expression, or of a nation convulsed by revolution. Yet her discoveries are beautiful, and the people who take part in her April Writers Retreat will benefit from Fitch’s gift for finding beauty as well as from her courage.
The retreat costs $685 and space is limited.