Alumnae/i Feature

Wendy Gordon ‘76 Publishes Prescient Dystopian Novel

It seemed that every time author Wendy Gordon ‘76 looked at the clock, it read 9:11. These numbers, now deeply ingrained into the American psyche, also left a significant impact on Gordon.

“Nine-eleven ripped a veil of invulnerability from my skin,” explains Gordon. “I lived in New York both as a very young child and for 11 years in my twenties and thirties. In the early 1990s, my husband was offered a job in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, which he rejected to move to Portland. So my first thought upon seeing the second plane hit the towers was: ‘He’s not there.’ Lots of other people, of course, were not so lucky, including 38 from our former town.”

Gordon still feels the immediacy of that moment 20 years later — and this visceral sensation found its way into her latest novel, It’s Always 9/11. “Maybe that’s what the clock was trying to tell me,” she says.

In 2017, Gordon began writing after imagining a woman returning from a remote backpacking trip in northern California. As the woman readjusts to everyday life, she catches a news report of a mysterious illness gripping New York City, where her parents still live.

“While the events in the novel are totally fictional,” says Gordon, “the way the real world has paralleled significant aspects of my plotline freaks me out.”

Throughout It’s Always 9/11, Gordon explores themes of technocratic control, the impact of fear on behavior, and her protagonist’s capacity for humanity and violence. To avoid being pigeonholed into science fiction genres, she rooted her story and main character in relatable settings and circumstances of everyday life. Gordon describes it as “mundane… until it isn’t.”

“I set the novel in Portland out of love for my adopted city,” she says. “For both me and my fictional protagonist, Tessa, the wild, stunningly beautiful landscape so close to our city limits lend a humbling perspective to the crazy things we humans do to each other.”

My Simmons education informs both their mindset and their frustration when truth, shall we say, does not set them free.

It’s Always 9/11 is Gordon’s sophomore novel — her first entitled Wrong Highway. Although she always loved writing and telling stories, Gordon didn’t consider herself a writer for a long time. Following a passion for food and health, she graduated from Simmons with a degree in nutrition. She went on to earn an MS in clinical nutrition from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Gordon eventually moved her family to Portland after holding different nutrition-related positions in Chicago and New York City.

It was when she approached a local food co-op for employment that she was able to incorporate a talent for writing into her nutrition career.

“They didn’t need anyone to work in the store—but they did need someone to write nutrition columns and recipes for their newsletter,” explains Gordon. “That position led to many years of writing restaurant reviews and feature stories for local newspapers, food co-ops, and online publications. The creative spark, however, kept burning — one might say compulsively.”

With her spark reignited, Gordon didn’t look back. She pursued writing classes, wrote screenplays and short stories, and began working on Wrong Highway in the early 2000s. She “wrote in nooks and crevices of time for over ten years” and published it in 2016.

“It’s a deeply thrilling feeling to see thoughts and images in my head come to life on the page and touch the hearts and minds of my readers,” says Gordon.

Although she dove back into the world of literature, her education and background informed her writing process — and her characters. Like Gordon, Tessa of It’s Always 9/11 is a wife and mother. She and her husband are described as “critical thinkers who believe in some degree of objective truth.” Gordon notes how her classes instilled a respect for the scientific method, specifically citing a Simmons statistics course that continues to resonate today as “data is both misused and misunderstood.”

“My Simmons education informs both their mindset and their frustration when truth, shall we say, does not set them free,” explains Gordon.

Another Simmons course also inspired Gordon: an independent study in creative writing with Dr. John Perry of the English Department. She recalls an encouraging moment after submitting her first short story — Perry approached her in the hallway and whispered, “You’ve got talent.” He also told her the valuable writing advice of “no unearned sentiment,” meaning there is more value in writing authentic, emotive characters for plot twists to feel genuine.

“I believe in the slow burn,” says Gordon. “Everything may seem deceptively ordinary in those first few chapters. But by the time my story goes off the rails, I hope you’re along for the ride.”

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