When choosing a career path, our last name is not usually something we take into consideration. We write it on exams, put it on job applications and never give it a second thought. However, when he chose to become a writer, Owen King ’99—son of author Stephen King—was perhaps more conscious of his surname than the average person. Nonetheless, King is not just an apple who fell close to his family tree. He has asserted himself into the literary world first with short stories, and most recently with his first novel “Double Feature” (Scribner).
If you crack open King’s “Double Feature,” as a Vassar student, this line might sound especially familiar: “The script was for a film called ‘Who We Are’ a drama set at Russell College, a small liberal arts school in northern New York.” Though this particular liberal arts school is fictional, when King wrote about his main character Sam Dolan’s experience there, he was reflecting on his own time at Vassar.
“My novel, ‘Double Feature,’ takes place partly on the campus of a fictional liberal arts college, so it’s definitely informed to some degree by my experience at Vassar. Not really Vassar as a place, though, but more how I recall feeling when I was at Vassar—ambitious, crazy, sad, horny, amazed, blissed out, and above all else, baffled,” wrote King in an emailed statement, evoking some sentiments with which many students can surely still sympathize.
Of his experiences at Vassar, King further recounted, “Well, I fell in love a couple of times at Vassar, and that was great/agony. I remember a lot of late nights at the library. I remember a lot of late nights at the Dutch Cabin, which is called something else now. I remember getting a shitload of parking tickets…When I think of Vassar I just think of all my friends, most of whom have stuck.”
Not having graduated too long ago, King is still keen on typical Vassar traditions.
He asked, “Do they still do the thing during spring exams where people go streaking? I didn’t do that.”
Though being naked wasn’t one of King’s extracurricular activities, he did spend time working for one of the College’s oldest organizations.
As an English major and an editor for The Miscellany News, King began his writing repertoire at Vassar—though he doesn’t necessarily see it that way. “I was the Opinions Editor and, later, the backpage editor. I suspect that posterity has not been kind to what I wrote at that time, but it was a fun experience and I got to know a lot of nice people. My most important article was about this mad man (or woman—the culprit was never apprehended) that was pooping in the showers in Main. I guess I’m sort of proud of that,” he said.
As far as his academic work at Vassar goes, King said he is grateful for his professors who gave him the confidence he needed as a “baffled” college student.
King said, “I’ll always owe a tremendous debt to Nancy Willard, Frank Bergon, Paul Russell, and Mark Amodio, who introduced me to so much wonderful literature and were charitable enough to take me seriously at a time in my life when I’m not entirely certain that I deserved to be taken seriously.”
King’s past professors continued to praise him, noting that the potential they once saw in King has certainly been realized.
“I remember Owen as a smart, exuberant, warm-hearted student; his undergraduate fiction brimmed with evidence of that rollicking, intense and generous imagination that blazes on every page of Double Feature,” said Professor of English Paul Russell.
He went on to note, “From the beginning he understood that stamina, discipline, focus and sheer soul hunger were just as important—and perhaps even more so—than raw talent alone,” adding,“And now he’s gone and turned himself into one of the most exciting writers of his generation.”
Before Double Feature, King’s works included mostly short stories, including We’re All In This Together: A Novella and Stories (2005) and Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories (2008). King said though he does not consider himself an author of any specific genre, his short stories do have some things in common with his newest work.
“The connection to my previous book is that they’re both comedic, or at least, attempt to be comedic, and both hopefully say something about the contemporary culture. The previous book was partly about political polarization. This one is about what we find entertaining,” said King.
In “Double Feature,” Sam’s first film becomes something which might be construed as a failure, but is received as a cult hit, something Sam doesn’t necessarily want to be famous for.
“I feel like ‘Double Feature’ is my best work, that the characterizations are deeper and smarter, that it’s well-structured, but what else would I think, right?” King said, adding that he plans to continue writing novels.
Though as an alumnus, an adult and a successful writer King could potentially give his Vassar-self some sage advice, King suggested that he has more to learn from him than the other way around.
King concluded, “I don’t want to give that young guy any advice. I want him to reveal to me how he used to thump down in his office chair in the THs and knock out eight thousand word stories in two or three nights.”