New York Times bestselling author, alumnus Matt Bell returns to OU


Maggie Willard

NY Times Bestselling author Matt Bell reading from his new novel “Appleseed” during his appearance last Thursday night in the OC.

New York Times bestselling author and Oakland University alumnus Matt Bell returned to OU for a reading from his most recent book “Appleseed.” The event took place on Thursday, Feb. 10 in the Oakland Center Banquet Room A, as well as via a Zoom livestream. 

This event was the culmination of the Creative Writing Program’s 10th Anniversary celebration. Annie Gilson, associate English professor in the Creative Writing Program introduced Bell, talking about her experience having him as a student. After graduating from OU in 2006, Bell has published 11 books, including three novels. 

“Appleseed” is based on the character Johnny Appleseed, but reimagined in the world of Greek mythology. The story includes themes of human identity with the use of Pan — the half-human and half-fawn main character. 

“There’s also a second timeline from fifty years from now, and a third from the far future, where the earth has returned to an ice age and humanity has been wiped out,” Gilson said. 

“Appleseed” was published in the summer of 2021. It was named a “Best Book of the Summer” by several notable magazines, including New York Times, Goodreads and USA Today. 

Bell started the reading by describing his time at OU. He came to OU in 2004 and it was the third university he attended. He emphasized the importance of teachers and how they made him feel throughout his time here. 

“These teachers took me seriously as a writer,” Bell said.

“Appleseed” starts in 1799, and ends later in the far future. There are three different timelines, and the audience sees them split into three points of view (POV). This was not the original version of the story, as Bell recounted this story was in the works for three and a half years, but only during the last six months did he add the separate POVs. 

“I worked on this story for three and a half years before I sent it to my agent,” Bell said. “In the last six months, I put all of the perspectives into the same book. I kind of just discovered it as I went.” 

Bell split the reading into three different parts, one for each of his POVs, and answered questions in between. 

“One thing I love about fairy tales and mythology in general is that the ones that last are inexhaustible, they’re interesting as source material,” he said. “They’re so sparse and so rich.” 

Bell highlighted the importance of the characters and how they’re placed in the setting of the novel. Attendees asked him about characters of marginalized identities. 

“I think I’ve thought a lot about who was in my future,” Bell said. “The resistance group that Johnny is a part of — I thought a lot about who was on that. I wanted to make sure that other people were given chances to be the hero and lead the story. I think it does matter who’s in the future of books, not just surviving, but thriving.” 

He finished the reading by answering the question about advice he has for aspiring authors. 

“Find a community of people that you want to be with,” he said. “The most giving part of my life is my daily practice as a writer. It’s fun to write a cool scene, it’s fun to do that. Figure out how much magic your book can hold.”