Lynn Sloan talks with author Jan English Leary


Jan English Leary and Lynn Sloan

The phrase “town and gown” refers to the often contentious social landscape in college towns. Town and “townies” are people who have no relationship to the college. Gown are people connected to the college or university. Wanda, raised on a farm, represents Town and Callie, a professor’s daughter, is Gown. 

Both young women chaff at the paths they are supposed to follow and make disastrous choices. Lynn and Jan read short sections from Wanda’s point of view and from Callie’s.  After the reading, Lynn asked Jan a few questions, then opened the discussion to include the audience.

What was the inspiration for Town and Gown? 

Some of the elements sprang from Jan’s own past. Shelton, PA, the fictional town where much of the novel is set, is based on the college town where Jan lived briefly when she was a girl. Growing up Jan saw how girls from different backgrounds had different life paths open and closed to them. 

Preference: writing short stories or novels?

Jan said she’s a committed short story writer. Short stories are her first love. But writing novels with chapters with alternating points of view has some the same qualitie. Town and Gown is written chapters that alternate between Wanda and Callie. While Wanda and Callie know each other slightly at the beginning of the novel, it is only later that their stories entwine.

Biggest surprise in writing Town and Gown?

When Jan started writing, she’s assumed that she would find Callie an easier character to write. Jan has two master degrees, and taught at a private school in Chicago. Jan was surprise to find she shared much with Wanda, the farm girl who works in a bakery after high school, especially her feelings about motherhood.

Sarah Hollenbeck, the owner of Women & Children First, said that Town and Gown was a page turner she couldn’t put down, a perfect summer read.