Kelly Oliver has written nonfiction extensively. Her projects include work on campus rape, reproductive technologies, women and the media, film noir, and Alfred Hitchcock. In this interview, the author of thirteen scholarly books and ten anthologies discusses a few of those projects and how they relate to her new fiction writing in the Jessica James Mystery Series.
Oliver said her favorite nonfiction project is typically the one she’s currently working on. “Right now, I’m working on a nonfiction book on ‘The Refugee Today.’ And the research on the current state and magnitude of refugees today is eye opening. After WWII, refugees from Nazi Germany went to refugee camps, but by 1951 they’d all been resettled and given official legal status in their host countries.
“Today nearly sixty million people are displaced and most of them live in refugee camps or detention centers for twelve years on average, some of them for decades. The refugee crisis is one of the most pressing issues of our contemporary era, and my current research is trying to understand the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments, for this mind-boggling problem.”
One of her past projects that stands out is her book titled, “Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media.” Oliver said it was inspired by reactions, including her own, to the photographs of women soldiers engaging in abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison.
“I was startled by the photos and started my research for that book in order to find some way to explain how these young women could pose next to naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners, or dead bodies, smiling and giving thumbs up like so many high school year-book photos. At their trials, they said they were just ‘having fun.’ Trying to diagnose a culture of violence and abuse where torture is ‘fun’ kept me busy for many years. Although I came up with some theories, I’m still baffled by that one.”
Oliver’s most recent nonfiction book is “Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape.” She said, “Some of the issues in this book come up in my fiction. This book also started with a ‘what the heck’ moment when I noticed so many popular young adult books and films featured tough girls hunting animals. I ended up interpreting YA books such as ‘Twilight,’ ‘The Hunger Games,’ and ‘Divergent’ as contemporary versions of classic fairytales such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.”
Olliver added, “Like these three projects, most of my nonfiction research begins with me scratching my head, trying to figure something out that puzzles me. Usually, the research raises more questions than it answers, but that’s what philosophy is all about.”
Raising questions—perhaps even finding answers—is what fiction can be about, too. In “Wolf,” the first in the Jessica James Mystery Series, Oliver continued exploring the issue of campus rape. Learn more in the companion interview at terryambrose.com.
Find Kelly Oliver on the web at kellyoliverbooks.com.