91.7 Grand Rapids | 90.5 Bemidji | 89.9 Brainerd
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Sheila O'Connor & Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts and Fictions


My grandmother was pregnant with my mother. The father, the man who impregnated her, was 35 years old. She was 15. She's the one who served this six year sentence. -Sheila O'Connor

Sheila O’Connor’s grandmother’s story was the impetus behind her new book Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts and Fictions.

… it's fiction… the book is made up of fictional pieces about this character. And, it is made up with historical documents, archival documents that are quite … government documents from the time, reports from school newspaper reports, things like that that tell the story of the school through the voices of the people that ran this school or represented the school in some way, or the government's voice on laws, illegitimate pregnancies, things like that. So the book works as a kind of collage. - Sheila O'Connor

O’Connor set out seeking information about her maternal grandmother. 

We learned that at fifteen, she had been incarcerated for being pregnant with my mother in 1935 and that the it was a six year incarceration. I learned that in in 2001. And it took me the decades that followed to give context to those facts…She was sentenced to the Minnesota Home School for Girls in Fox Center, Minnesota, which was the girl equivalent to the Redwing Reformatory for Boys, which exists still today. But I realized in delving into this that this was a history that people did not know about. And it was it's really interesting because the first thing when I had discovered that she'd been incarcerated for six years, my first question, you know, besides like being, you know, quite distraught to find out that any 15 year old is incarcerated until the age of 21…But what was her crime? 

…and what I came to understand through this research of trying to unearth things that have long been buried about these girls in this period at this school, was that the majority of the girls and I mean 95, some percent, maybe 97, maybe higher percent of the girls were actually sentenced for immorality, which is obviously a vague and undefined crime…Not a crime at all, as a matter of fact.  There were at least several hundred that were committed every year. -  Sheila O'Connor

In this Area Voices, learn more about O’Connor’s novel, the journey of uncovering historical information, her writing process and much more.  Click on the arrow below for the full interview.