Dr. Chris Shaffer, Dean of Library Services at Troy University, has received the Southeastern Library Association’s Outstanding Southeastern Author Award in the non-fiction category for his book “Moon Over Sasova: One American’s Experience Teaching in Post-Cold War Slovakia.”
This year’s award was presented at the Joint Mississippi Library Association and Southeastern Library Association Conference in Meridian, Miss. on Oct. 12.
Presented bi-annually, the award honors a native or resident of a state within the bounds of the Southeastern Library Association’s 11-state footprint for a published fiction or non-fiction work of outstanding literary merit. The first award was presented in 1978 to Pulitzer Prize-winning Mississippian Eudora Welty. Other previous Outstanding Southeastern Author Award recipients in both the fiction and nonfiction categories include John Grisham, Charles Frazier, Sena Jeter Naslaund, Sue Monk Kidd, Pat Conroy, Rick Bragg and Jimmy Carter, among others.
Shaffer said being included in the company of such notable past recipients is humbling.
“Absolute elation,” Shaffer said, explaining his reaction to being selected for the award. “But, I am also not quite arrogant enough to think I am truly a writer in their league, each of whom has a remarkable canon of work. I had a compelling story to tell, and I am enormously appreciative to the committee for feeling it was worthy of such an award. However, I would need to write a lot more and have a lot more successes before I can truly consider myself an author in their league.”
“Moon Over Sasova” documents Shaffer’s time teaching English and traveling in post-communist Europe in the 1990s. Shaffer arrived in Slovakia in 1993, two weeks after the Velvet Divorce, which peacefully broke up Czechoslovakia resulting in the creation of an independent Slovak state.
“Ever since 1993, wanted to write a book about my time in Slovakia,” Shaffer said. “It took me 28 years after the experience to write the book, but I came up with the title my last night in Slovakia.”
In addition to his own writings and recollections of the experience, Shaffer used letters he wrote to family and friends during his trip as a valuable resource for the book.
“I had the letters I had written to my grandmother and some I had sent to my parents,” he said. “I had also written letters regularly to one of my best friends. He died four years ago and his brother found the letters while going through things at his house and sent them to me. It was nice to have those memories and be able to include them in the book.”
Shaffer likened the process of writing the book to the old adage, “How do you eat and elephant? One bite at a time.”
“There is something to be said for getting a doctorate because it teaches you a lot about the writing process,” he said. “I understood how to do it. I set a goal to write two hours a day with the goal to write 5,000 words a week. I discovered that doing that wasn’t difficult. I was having fun and reliving these wonderful experiences.”
Shaffer said he has frequently received the question that most first-time authors receive – “When are you going to write your next book.”
“I’m starting to play with the notion (of writing a second book),” he said. “Three years after that first experience in Slovakia, I did the trip again. I have a working title, so we will see.”