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The Chronicle of Higher Education: Short Subjects
From the issue dated August 16, 2002

Woman of La Mancha


When Karin Bolender read a Wallace Stevens essay claiming that every writer must reckon with Don Quixote, she took him at his word.

Ms. Bolender, who will begin graduate school in creative writing at Hollins University this fall, saddled up her donkey, Aliass, in June on a quest, she says, to "take the making of epic poetry out of the hermitage and onto the road" and to "blast the imagination out into reality." Starting in William Faulkner's hometown, Oxford, Miss., she rode her donkey for much of a 37-day, 600-mile journey to the Virginia border -- at two miles per hour. "You do see a lot more of the world at two miles an hour than you might ever imagine," she says, noting that she occasionally transported the donkey in a trailer.

Ms. Bolender, 28, who dubbed herself "The Little Pilgrim of Carcassonne," after a Faulkner short story, says she began the trek unsure of how she would be received on her journey. "There's a very fine line between being a productive artist and a crackpot," she says. "But it turned out to be something that people really delighted in."

Even Richard H.W. Dillard, an English professor at Hollins and director of its graduate program in English and creative writing, says he was drawn in by the idea. "I was startled," he says. "It's not everyone who tells you they're going to ride a spotted ass across the American South. She's a very engaging and interesting person."

Although she has started writing about the pilgrimage, Ms. Bolender says she doesn't know what form her final reflections will take. "It's definitely going to be fictive and poetic," she says. And a new literary genre may be in the works. "I'll call it the assay."

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Section: Short Subjects
Page: A8

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Copyright 2002 by The Chronicle of Higher Education