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The Scarlet & Black

Baker educates audiences

Photo+by+Misha+Gelnarov
Photo by Misha Gelnarov

Photo by Misha Gelnarov
Photo by Misha Gelnarov

On Thursday, Feb. 5, the Pioneer Bookstore hosted novelist Larry Baker for a reading from his latest novel “The Education of Nancy Adams.” The novel follows a widow who is hired to teach at her former high school by the teacher she had a close personal relationship with while in high school.

“The story began 15 years ago when I was looking at two different high schools in Florida, both in the same county: one a downtown school, one a county school. The county school was completely white and the downtown school was black and white and this was pushing 1990,” Baker said. “I got the original idea by seeing those two schools at the end of the 20th century and I thought, ‘How does this still happen? That the town grew up still segregated after all these years.’”

The title of the book plays off of the biography of Harvard historian Henry Adams, whose education looms in Nancy’s mind as she learns that high school drama isn’t just for the students. The novel paints a complex picture of the lives of teachers.

“Students never understand that their teachers are just as screwed up as they are. They have the same insecurities and jealousies, love affairs, rejection … Teachers pose as adults. They’ve never gotten out of high school,” Baker said.

To gather information for this novel, Baker spent three weeks in an Iowa City high school and took a lot of that material and placed it in the pages of his book, creating an authentic feel.

Like many novelists, Baker did not take a traditional route to becoming a writer. He had a wide variety of jobs, including being the emcee at a strip club, holding public office in Iowa City and owning and operating drive-in movie theaters. These and other unique experiences provided the material for his writing career.

“I started writing short stories when I was in high school and continued to write short stories for 30 years but of course there’s no money in short stories. And so I finally strung together a series of scenes based on my theater experience. I used to run drive-in movie theaters,” Baker said. “Eventually I had a first novel that was put together after my wife and I adopted two children. I used that experience as the theme of the first book, which is this whole conflict between nature and nurture.”

After that, Baker claims, getting published was a combination of “perseverance and dumb luck.”

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