Canadian author writes fiction story about reality of the May 4 tragedy

Nicole Stempak

Faculty member stumbles upon story

Author James Alan Gardner tried to write a story about the May 4 shootings. He couldn’t, so he wrote a story about his failed attempts instead.

“I felt moved to write this but I knew nothing about them, the victims or Kent State. I had never been there,” he said. “. There was no justification for me to write this and yet I felt there was something to write.”

Gardner, who lives in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada, was 15 when the shootings occurred. In 1992, he wrote a short science fiction story titled “Kent State Descending the Gravity Well: An Analysis of the Observer.”

It was published in Amazing magazine. The story was re-released in an anthology of Gardner’s short stories in 2005 called “Gravity Wells: Speculative Fiction Stories.”

Despite its age, the story appeared when Karen Cunningham, assistant professor for the Center for Applied Conflict Management, did a Google search for Kent State and May 4 shootings a couple weeks ago.

“I don’t typically read science fiction,” she said. “(But) I found it intriguing because it was not so much science fiction so much as asking questions about right and wrong.”

Gardner said he was inspired when he read 25th anniversary perspectives in three Canadian newspapers May 5, 1990. He was puzzled that only one of the stories listed the names of the four victims.

“It was an exceedingly famous tragedy and no one paid attention to who died, like they were completely incidental,” he said. “. How can you write about the deaths of four people without including their names?”

That question resulted in three failed attempts over the next day and a half. The first two attempts involved time travelers who insert the four victims into the past and then a time traveler who shoots the victims. The third involved the ghosts of the victims, along with other martyrs, returning to the campus.

“I started with time travel because of the idea that someone in the future is there to try and make sense of it,” he said. “.That’s how I went in, but eventually I realized that’s doing a total injustice to the situation.

“While that’s an OK starting point for writing a story, after an hour or two of doing it, I said that’s the wrong thing to do about this. This is not treating the subject matter seriously.”

Alan Canfora, one of the nine victims, wrote in an e-mail that he thought the story was well-written and provocative. He said he especially appreciated the philosophical metaphors, such as “.if the observer wants to see it, he must provide his own illumination.”

“Of course, my perception of the story is affected by my own eyewitness observations and participation on the front lines at Kent in 1970,” he wrote. “And, along with others, I have tried my best to illuminate these misunderstood events. So I found this story very fascinating.”

Canfora said he also enjoyed Gardner’s outside perspective and understanding of the significance of May 4 globally.

Gardner admitted he didn’t know what the effect was in the United States but considers it the day America lost its innocence.

“We assumed the U.S. was different, but it isn’t,” he said. “I don’t think world opinion has ever recovered from that.

“That’s when the ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Leave it to Beaver’ things were put to rest. Things were different now.”

Contact student politics reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].