The Mill Town

After a year of change, author returns to Corsicana

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Speaking with author Kerri Arsenault again feels like another lifetime; A different newspaper and a different world since her last 100W residency during the fall of 2019. The Navarro County Gazette sits down with the writer to talk about life, change, and of course, her first book, Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains.

Arsenault will be presenting her book at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 at the Palace Theatre, Downtown Corsicana. A conversation with the audience, signing, and a food and wine after-reception to follow, located inside the Studio at 411 N. Beaton Street.

Author Kerri Arsenault presents her book, Mill Town, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 at the Palace Theatre. – Photo by Guy Chapman

The author completed her book during her stay at Corsicana Artist and Writer Residency. The novel, as described by Arsenault’s site, details the book as a “narrative nonfiction, investigative memoir, and cultural criticism that illuminates the rise and collapse of the working-class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease with the central question; Who or what are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?”

“It’s about a paper mill town where I grew up where three generations of family worked,” Arsenault said. “But what it’s really about is environmental and family legacies and how those two things parallel along the same lines. In that parallel, it also tells the history of working class America.”

Arsenault returned to Corsicana in Feb. of 2020 to finish her final edits, leaving just before the pandemic began. Originally, she planned to go into these working class communities and have conversations with people, but many of these talks shifted to online discussions. This was a challenge in itself as many of these smaller communities do not have easy access to internet.

“I would have liked to have reached more people on the ground, and I hope I can in the future,” she said, noting she hasn’t had an opportunity to host an event in her own hometown. “I don’t want to do an event there that is only for some people, especially when it’s about all of them.”

Virtual events and meetups have allowed her to continually connect with people and other writers, becoming her own publicist to get her book and its story into other hands.

Since then, the writer remained busy, having done about 90 events, guest lecturing in universities about architecture, sociology environmental studies, narrative non-fiction, and anthropology, teaching, and doing book reviews. But largely, her work has orbited around her book.

Now back in Corsicana, Arsenault plans to teach a course about research and following one’s curiosity, and writing about place at Corsicana High School during her visit. She will also be doing a talk at Navarro College, and holding a fundraising dinner in town.

“If there one person that can be touched by storytelling in general, I want to turn people on to storytelling,” Arsenault said. “It’s the only things that’s going to change anything.”

“If anything,” she added, “I want the book to open up conversation, and break silences of communities about family silences or environmental silences.”

The hardcover and paperback version of Mill Town. – Photo by Guy Chapman

The paperback version of Mill Town came out in September. Arsenault is already planning her next writing project, and was recently appointed an associate of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University starting in Jan. of 2022. She plans to visit Paris to continue her writing.

In the meantime, the author is happy to be back among Corsicana’s community.

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