As author Sharon Ewell Foster stood at the Gettysburg College podium to accept the prestigious Michael Shaara Prize, she struggled to believe the moment was really true.
Raised in a tough neighborhood in East St. Louis, Ill., the former U.S. Department of Defense analyst was now being recognized as one of the top Civil War fiction writers in the nation.
Adding to the surrealistic nature of the experience, legendary film director Steven Spielberg and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin were seated just a few feet away.
“It was stunning, just absolutely shocking,” said Foster about the Nov. 19 awards presentation. “If you looked up ghetto in the dictionary you would find a picture of my old neighborhood. Now, here I was standing 20 feet away from Steven Spielberg and Doris Kearns Goodwin. I just kept thinking, ‘How did this ever happen?’ It was phenomenal and very fulfilling.”
Foster will share her amazing story Saturday, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. at the Southeast Regional Library in Garner and Thursday, Feb. 7 at noon at Eva Perry Library in Apex. The events are free but registration is requested.
Possessing a charming wit and wonderful sense of humor, Foster will discuss how she vowed never to become a writer and then eventually spent five years researching her highly-acclaimed novel “The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part One: The Witnesses.”
Although Foster always was a gifted writer who loved words, she was more interested in financial stability.
“I ran from writing for a long time,” said Foster, who lives in Durham. “I had four older brothers who were artists of one kind or another and I saw them calling home all the time asking for money. I told myself that I would grow up and get a real job. I knew you couldn’t make money being a writer.”
Foster decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and became a Department of Defense analyst working in the Pentagon.
Even though she enjoyed her job she couldn’t get rid of the nagging suspicion that she was missing something more in life.
“I liked my job but felt I should have a longer title,” said a laughing Foster. “So I was sitting at work fussing out God in my mind. I kept asking Him why things weren’t going better for me. Well, I didn’t get struck with lightning.”
She believes the answer came to her at work two weeks later.
“It suddenly felt like a cinder block fell on my chest,” said Foster. “I knew that I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. I knew I should be writing. I just started crying right there at my desk. Here is some free advice. If you want to get promoted, don’t start crying at your desk for no apparent reason. The boss isn’t going to like it.”
The mother of two young children, Foster had little free time to write. She also didn’t have a publisher or any knowledge of the business.
Then she realized she was simply looking for a way to avoid her true calling.
“I went to all my negative friends hoping they would tell me not to write but they ended up being supportive,” said Foster. “I went to my minister, because I knew he would talk me out of it, but all he did was encourage me. I finally ran out of excuses.”
Foster set aside 45 minutes every morning before work to write. In six months, she completed about three chapters of her first novel.
She decided to attend a writers’ conference in Virginia as a way to get feedback from other aspiring novelist. The event was nothing like she expected.
“There were all these agents and publishers there,” said Foster. “If I had known that, there is no way I would have gone. I was hoping to speak with some other writers who would read my three chapters and then tell me I should never write again.”
Instead, Foster was given an award as being the most promising new writer at the event and ended up with both a publisher and an agent.
“Now, I am able to write full time and I love what I do,” said Foster. “It really is amazing.”
To register for Foster’s appearance call 919-662-2250 (Garner) or 919-387-2100 (Apex). For more information about the author and her novels visit www.sharonewellfoster.com.