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Adrienne Celt ’06 is 2018-2019’s first Writer@Grinnell

Adrienne Celt ’06 came to campus to give a round-table and reading on Thursday. Her book, “Invitation to a Bonfire,” is out now. Illustration by Zoe Fruchter.
Adrienne Celt ’06 came to campus to give a round-table and reading on Thursday. Her book, “Invitation to a Bonfire,” is out now. Illustration by Zoe Fruchter.

Adrienne Celt ’06 visited Grinnell on Thursday as the first guest in this year’s Writers@Grinnell series. She sat down with students at a roundtable discussion in JRC 209, and then gave a larger reading and Q&A in JRC 101 at 8 p.m.

Celt, who was a Russian and philosophy double major at Grinnell, is currently receiving critical acclaim for her new novel, “Invitation to a Bonfire.” The book tells the story of a young woman who has immigrated to the United States from Russia and finds herself attending an all-girls boarding school in New Jersey. At the boarding school, she gets entangled in a love triangle with a couple inspired by Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera Nabokov.

Celt is not only a novelist, but a comic writer and a Grinnell alumna, so the discussion topics included editing manuscripts, why Nabokov gets a bad reputation and the ways in which Grinnell continues to inspire her.

Celt even claimed that her novel might not have come into fruition without Grinnell. As a Russian major, she took Professor Kelly Herold’s seminar on Nabokov during her senior year, which gave her the literary and historical information needed to write a book inspired by the Nabokov couple. “For this book,” Celt said, “the historical elements were easier to find because I had already done the research ten years ago.”

It was in that Nabokov seminar that Celt fell for Nabokov’s work, which has had a lasting impact on her. “The reason that I love Nabokov is the way that his work affects me. He is able to be both stylistically brilliant and structurally inventive,” Celt said. “In terms of his personality and his legacy as an ego-driven art monster, I think that that’s true. He was very controlling of both his characters and his readers. He and his wife Vera both felt that it was important to control the way that he was seen as an artist and a genius.”

Celt also mentioned that some of the criticism of Nabokov’s persona shrouds the fact that he genuinely cared for those around him. “I think that he also had a lot of dignity and honor and respect for the people who loved him. And the work that he was doing was very meaningful,” Celt said. “Even ‘Lolita,’ which is controversial because some people think that it takes Lolita’s story away from her — the way that I read the book is that that is the point. She was a vulnerable and harmed child, and the reason that we see it through Humbert’s eyes is that he is an incredibly seductive narrator. Just seeing it through Lolita’s eyes would have been tragic but almost unbearable.”

Nabokov aside, Celt highlighted seminars on Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt as some of the most memorable classes she took at Grinnell. And, even in her free time, she says that being isolated at a place like Grinnell can foster endless curiosity. “I remember in my free time I would go to Burling, go to the fiction shelves and pick things off at random that looked appealing,” Celt said. “The nice thing about being in college in a small place like Grinnell is you feel like everything belongs to you. You’re sort of wonderfully insulated from the world for a while. Things that have been shared with a lot of people can feel very personal to you, which I think is a great way to build a relationship with an artist.

Celt’s latest book, “Invitation to a Bonfire,” is available now, and her comics are published weekly at

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