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Ouachita alumnus Eli Cranor returns to campus to share authorial journey

Eli CranorNovember 18, 2020 - Langley Leverett

With a masked beard and a shirt that read in bold blue letters,: “READ MORE BOOKS,” Ouachita Baptist University alumnus Eli Cranor gave an author’s reading in Young Auditorium Thursday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m. In a perfectly Baptist fashion, Cranor opened up the event with an acoustic hymn, strumming his guitar and singing. Ouachita’s Department of Language and Literature had invited him to share his unusual authorial journey with current students.

Eli Cranor book signing

Cranor signs a copy of his book, Books Make Brainz Taste Bad, following his discussion with Ouachita students.

As a former English and political science major, Cranor originally thought he would pursue law school after graduation from Ouachita, but he ended up in Sweden playing professional football. After that year-long journey, he traveled back to Arkansas to work as a coach and a high school English teacher.

Following nearly five years of coaching, he turned his attention to writing, earning awards from The Missouri Review in 2018 and The Greensboro Review in 2017. During 2019 and 2020, he wrote a series of creative essays for Oxford American and began to pen a weekly sports column titled “Athletic Support” that now appears in various newspapers nationwide.

Originally focused on non-fiction and contemporary short stories, Cranor decided to self-publish a children’s book once COVID-19 came onto the scene. After witnessing the shift from in-person classes to an education dominated by Zoom calls, he was inspired to write Books Make Brainz Taste Bad, “a Goosebumps-inspired” thriller that is available on Amazon.

As a husband and father, he said he wanted his children and other families to see the importance of reading and to challenge students to keep pushing forward into their academic goals. Books Make Brainz Taste Bad is a story that humorously reminds children that knowledge is a weapon and that it should be utilized for one’s own protection.

“This book can make readers out of younger kids,” Cranor said. “It’s what we need so much as a country and a people. The number four reason you should read books, according to Dash’s story, is that it can make you a kinder person.”

Cranor now visits surrounding school campuses to promote literacy and share Dash’s story, the protagonist, with elementary students.

“When I look at all the problems we’re having in our country right now, I think, maybe it’s because we have fallen away from reading. We don’t have that empathy anymore because they don’t know what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes,” Cranor said. “They’re only in their cell phone world. They’re in this protected bubble that algorithms have created specifically for them, to feed them exactly what they want to know and hear. We don’t ever get to see what someone else feels like. I try to explain this to those kids. The whole point of this book is that books can save your life.”

Cranor’s sequel is titled Books Make Brains Taste Bad: Witch Hunt and originally was set to release in November 2020 but has been delayed to October 2021 as other projects have taken the forefront. To Cranor’s surprise, he received an email a few weeks ago from a literary agent requesting to work with him on his previously submitted novel, Don’t Know Tough. The book is based on his short story by the same name that won the Miller Audio Prize by The Missouri Review and The Robert Watson Literary Prize by The Greensboro Review.

“I almost told them no. I knew I had gone so far [in an opposite] way. I slept on it though,” Cranor said. “In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten it all. The timing is so weird."

Although Cranor said he is inspired by literary giants and novelists such as Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown and Elmore Leonard, much of his inspiration came from coaching in rural Arkansas. He said watching his students endure life, with both good and bad cards dealt, gave him many perspectives.

“Beyond just the football stuff that went into my first novel, I learned so much about people and motivations for people,” Cranor said. “I learned so much about the politics of small southern towns because I was an actual player within a small southern town. I’ve used that in everything I’ve written.”

Cranor remains in touch with the Department of Language and Literature at Ouachita, corresponding regularly with Dr. Johnny Wink, Ouachita’s Betty Burton Peck Professor of English.

“What has impressed me about Eli – many, many things. He's a very intelligent person and a very good friend, and I think he's one of the best listeners I've ever run into,” Wink said. “He absorbs things, you know. That would certainly be a lesson for a potential artist – try to be a sponge.”

Wink went on to affirm Eli’s determination and hard work to achieve success in a competitive field.

“For Eli, there were other turns in the road before he settled into this, but once he did, he was just single-minded,” Wink said. “The short of it is, if you decide there's a bliss you want to follow, as Joseph Campbell put it, one way to follow it is by working as hard as you can.”

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