Jennifer Haigh brings “Heat and Light” to Bristol

April Federico, Features Editor

RWU students and members of the Bristol community came together to be in the presence of author Jennifer Haigh on Nov. 6 at the Rogers Free Library. Haigh read from and talked about her new bestselling book, “Heat and Light.” 

In total, Haigh has published five novels and one collection of short stories. Additionally, she is a Pen Hemingway Award winner. The Pennsylvania native took it upon herself to write a novel based in the town of Bakerton. Haigh’s second book is called Baker Towers, so “Heat and Light” revisits that same town in her previous book. In fact, Bakerton is modeled after the town in which Haigh grew up. The audience even learned that she has a Corgi named Ginger.

Haigh read the beginning of her book with a low, smooth voice filled with expression and used different voices for each character, giving the audience a glimpse of the town and how its citizens were affected by the issues of fracking and addiction. One member of the audience commented on how it was interesting to see things from different points of views. Haigh said after reading, “a novelist begins with a moment at which nothing will be the same.” 

On the issue of fracking, Haigh said, “This really looks at the question of fracking from every possible vantage point … I do have my own convictions against fracking, but that’s not the reason I set out to write this book. It was something to examine how this place changes when this happens.” 

Haigh said this book took five years for her to research and write. She joked that she has “no life” with no kids, so all she did was research in her free time. She conducted interviews on all sides of the question of fracking, speaking to landowners, the activist communities who held strong opinions against fracking, and even geologists. 

“The more I understood this subject, the more I understood that there were no villains in this story – that all the characters in this book believe they had good reasons for believing in what they believe,” Haigh said. She continued that writing and researching for this book.was an educational experience for her.

“Writing fiction is a lot like being an actor,” Haigh said of the writing process. She added that this is especially true when one is writing a character whose beliefs and values she does not share. She said you must exercise loyalty to that character. 

“Writing is the best technology for getting under a person’s skin,” Haigh said. She never thought she’d be writing about her hometown, and it was a great accomplishment for her. She really tried to use these sensory images to depict the accuracy of how messy and dirty Pennsylvania is; Haigh detailed that she had played in the strip mines, so she knows firsthand how dirty it really is.