Woman of La Mancha
By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
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