Standing at the podium of Little Building’s Beard Room, Andrew Ladd looks every inch the part of a successful graduate. He wears a spirited purple-and-gold sweater, and when he speaks — his voice tinged with his native Scottish accent — he has a natural charm.
“I agonize over my work,” he said with a smile. “Just like every writing student who’s ever come here.”
Ladd was on campus to launch his first novel, What Ends, which he wrote as part of his master’s thesis while finishing his MFA in creative writing at Emerson. The book — described in a review by New Issues Press as a “remarkable, haunting novel” — follows a family of five living on a small island off the coast of Scotland. At the beginning of the story, they are part of a small, close-knit community, but by the end, nearly 20 years later, they are the last people left on the island.
Margot Livesey, Ladd’s thesis chair and, according to Ladd, a huge influence on both him and the novel, described the work as “tremendously ambitious.”
“Its strength lies in its ability to be epic and intimate at the same time,” said Livesey.
The novel won the 2012 Novel Series Award from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, an organization which spans more than 500 colleges and universities and 50,000 individual members.
Karen Sikola, a friend of Ladd’s who attended the launch, echoed the praises of its readers and critics.
“The prose is just beautiful,” said Sikola. “I keep forgetting that my friend wrote it, which I think is a testament to how well he’s done.”
At the launch, Ladd read several excerpts from the novel, vivid and emotional scenes of a mother’s frustrated love, of siblings whispering in the dark, and of a Christmas family portrait gone awry. When he stopped to ask if anyone had any questions, a hand in the audience instantly went up to ask if he could keep reading.
“I actually did my first public reading right here in this room,” Ladd said, gesturing to the friends, family, fans, and students who made up the crowd. “I’m so glad to be launching my first book here too. Although honestly, it’s a treat just to be launching my first book anywhere.” He smiled, and the audience smiled with him.
Ladd had been part of the Emerson community for many years. He spent two years here as an undergrad and later returned to earn his master’s degree in 2010. He returned again as a professor, teaching Intro duction to College Writing for two years.
“It was such a great experience,” said Ladd. “I would have happily taught at Emerson for many, many years, if we hadn’t had to move for my wife’s job.”
He is the current blog editor for Emerson’s award-winning literary magazine, Ploughshares. The publication’s editor-in-chief, Ladette Randolph, cheerfully called him “our man in New York.”
Ladd said he regards his time at Emerson as tremendously influential on his novel, and not just because he wrote it while attending the school.
“All my time here, even when I was an undergrad, really prepared me for this,” he said. “Working at Ploughshares too. The first semester I worked for Ploughshares I must have read more than a thousand submitted stories. It really taught me what worked and what didn’t.”
Jaime Nemiah, Ladd’s cousin, whom he stayed with during part of his time at Emerson, agreed that the school was instrumental to his success.
“It was a really good introduction to the American school system, I think,” said Nemiah, referencing Ladd’s immigration from his native Scotland.
Ladd said he will be moving to London, England to work for a festival company, although he said he will continue to write and has another novel and a short story collection in the works. He said that both his American and British publishers for What Ends are planning paperback editions.
Ali Antonucci, a former student of Ladd’s and a senior writing, literature and publishing major, said she is inspired by his success.
“It’s just very encouraging to see,” she said, adding that she, like Ladd, would like to get into freelance writing after graduation.
Livesey, a freelance writer herself, succinctly summed up the success of Ladd’s first novel.
“At first I was quite miffed,” she said with a teasing smile.
Livesey said she grew up in Scotland, like Ladd, and had published several works set in her native highlands.
“I always thought Scottish islands were mine to write about,” she said. “But Ladd has made this island completely his own. He inhabits it. And when we read What Ends, we can inhabit it with him.”