The Left & the Leaving is the novel and thesis project of Sarah Bates, a candidate for MFA in Creative Writing fiction at George Mason University. This website serves as Sarah’s MFA project, a required component of the Mason MFA. This project is a “student-designed endeavor that must be completed at any time during the MFA and prior to degree conferral…An MFA project should complement a student’s program of study, aligning with his or her academic and career goals.” This MFA project and website will serve as a companion reader for her novel and thesis, through which Sarah aims to explore the line between fact and fiction as well as share the discoveries found in her research.
The Left & the Leaving tells the story of the Womack family in fictional Cahawba County, Alabama, and the character of Althea Womack Lowe. Though she isn’t the central character, she is a magnetic character, and the novel at times revolves around her and her family’s relationships with her.
The Womacks are based upon Sarah’s maternal family—her grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-aunt. The setting burst onto the page in Alan Cheuse’s Fall 2014 Forms of Fiction course, where he prompted his students to write an architectural pastiche in the fashion of Thomas Hardy. Sarah described her great-grandparents’ house, which has sat unoccupied since the 1990s. Every room is as neat and orderly as a 100-year-old house can be—except the front parlor, which is filled-to-the-brim with antiques and oddities—from Nabokov’s Lolita in its Cyrillic translation to faded Paddington Bear dolls. From the early 1960s until 1992, Sarah’s great-aunt lived in this room, and she didn’t leave the house except to be buried.
Through The Left & the Leaving, Sarah has reshaped her family stories in an attempt to save the lore and memories on the page, and sift through the tall Southern tales she grew up with. She aims to explore how many old Southern homes come to sit empty, and to understand those who leave and those who stay behind. She also strives to understand how her own family home came to be unoccupied in, and how the writer who lived inside it died surrounded by the remnants of her old life.