Benjamin Gorman is a high school English teacher. He lives in Independence, Oregon with his wife, Paige, and their son, Noah. His first novel was The Sum of Our Gods. His second was Corporate High School. He believes in human beings and the power of their stories. He places his confidence in his students and the world they will choose to create if given the chance.
Benjamin was born in Adrian, Michigan in 1977. His family lived in Blissfield, Michigan where his mother, Cinda Gorman, was the pastor of the Presbyterian church. When Ben was born, his father, Steve Gorman, was getting his second master’s degree so he could become a pastor as well. When Ben was three, the family moved to Champaign, Illinois, where Ben’s brother, Joe, was born. That’s where Ben started his writing career; his mother would take dictation as he’d tell stories about knights and dragons, astronauts and aliens. Despite this early practice at being a writer, Ben wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. “My grandfather had been a scientist who worked for NASA. My parents raised me to be a feminist. So, logically, my hero was Sally Ride. My mom even helped me write her a letter and she sent us an autographed picture.” He also became a die-hard Star Wars fan. “I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I had no idea I’d grow up to be a lot more like Yoda.”
When Ben was six, the Gormans moved to San Diego, California, where Ben attended Horton Elementary, a bilingual immersion magnet school. Ben became fluent in Spanish. He also had a wonderful English teacher who taught him during the school’s daily hour of English instruction. Mary Roden assigned students to write a short story each week and share them with the class each Friday. “I learned a lot about writing for an audience in the same way a comedian learns at an open mic night. Some stories landed and others didn’t. That’s a great way to learn.” In San Diego, the Gormans adopted Ben’s sister, Jillian. Ben liked to lead his brother, sister, and neighborhood kids on frequent trips to the local 7-11 where they would load up on Zotz, Bazooka Joe bubble gum, and Slurpees. That’s where Ben discovered his love of comic books. It was also in San Diego that Ben went to his first anti-war protest, which he attended with his father. “Dad served honorably in the Air Force during the Vietnam war. Then he took me to protest our first war in Iraq. That had a huge influence on the way I understand patriotism, 1stAmendment freedoms, and political engagement.”
When Ben was in 8th grade, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Ben resented the move and incorrectly blamed the city. “I was under the misconception that I would have fit in back in San Diego, and that all my teenage frustrations and confusion were Cincinnati’s fault.” He retreated into writing. His eighth grade teacher assigned a short story one day, and by the end of the week he brought her the first sixty pages. “That became my style for a while. I would overwhelm my teachers with pages. I thought quantity equaled quality. It wasn’t until college that I was completely disabused of that notion.” That story turned into Ben’s first completed novel, a sprawling sci-fi epic that wasn’t very good. One teacher did find a strategy that greatly improved Ben’s writing. Mrs. Green, his tenth grade English teacher at Withrow High School, took him aside one day and told him that she couldn’t teach him how to be a better writer because he was already a better writer than she was, but she knew a lot of writers who could teach him. “Then she took me down to the library and gave me books by great authors. I had to write her a paper about each one. Whenever I didn’t like a novel, she made me read something else by the same author so I could have a more complete respect for his or her powers.” Still, Ben hated high school. He was filled with a common adolescent anger that he couldn’t ever fully articulate. “In retrospect, I think I was angry that I didn’t have anything to be angry about. There I was, a white, male, middle-class kid who wanted to have a cause, a grievance, and I really didn’t have anything to complain about. I had two married parents who loved me. I received an excellent, free public education. Shakespeare could easily have been writing about me when he wrote, ‘A pack of blessings light upon thy back; / Happiness courts thee in her best array; / But, like a misbhav’d and sullen wench, / Thou pout’st upon thy fortune and thy love.’” He spent lunches and passing periods hiding out in empty classrooms, his nose buried in paperback books. He was admitted early to Whitworth University (then Whitworth College) in Spokane, Washington, so he skipped his senior year of high school and traveled across the country. “It took putting a continent between us for me to realize that my parents, both of whom had their doctorates, were just as smart as my professors.”
When Ben started at Whitworth, he planned on majoring in English and education with the hopes of becoming a high school English teacher. He soon changed his major to philosophy. “I decided that teaching high school English wouldn’t be any fun. That particular joke was on me, but I wouldn’t realize that for many years.” He formed his closest friendships at Whitworth, the most important coming in his junior year. Paige was a freshman, and when her mother and brother were helping her move into the dorms, they saw Ben crossing campus and joked that they’d seen the man she would one day marry. “They were just struck by the fact that we both had dyed black hair and similar clothes. Once we actually met, it turned out we had a lot more in common.” A year later, they were engaged, though it would be a two-year long engagement. Before their wedding, Ben graduated and didn’t know what to do next. He took some sales jobs, worked as an assistant manager at a Pizza Hut, sold insurance for Prudential, then sold stocks and bonds for Meryl Lynch. He learned a lot about poverty and wealth and the horrors of both. Most importantly, he learned that he didn’t want to spend his life making rich people richer or doing something he didn’t enjoy to get rich himself. “Whether it was people on welfare buying pizzas they couldn’t afford or people buying million dollar homes and luxury cars they couldn’t afford, I saw a lot of screwed-up priorities. I found I had a lot more sympathy for the people who wanted to buy their kids a pizza than the people who wanted that new Lexus, or who wanted me to buy a Lexus to look the part for their investment company.”
When Paige graduated from college, the couple felt strongly that they should be nearer to family, so they had to decide between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Newberg, Oregon. Though Ben prefers the pace and energy of big cities, he loves the natural beauty of Oregon. Paige and Ben decided to move to Oregon, first to Newberg, then to Dundee. Upon arrival, he looked for sales jobs because that was all the experience he had. Luckily, his mother-in-law worked at Newberg High School and told him about a position opening for a translator for second-language-learners. After his first day on the job, Ben was hooked. While working at Newberg High, he got his Masters in Teaching from George Fox University. When he finished the program, he found a job at Central High School, the school that serves the twin towns of Independence and Monmouth, Oregon. Ben, Paige, and Baby-on-the-way moved to Salem, Oregon, thinking it would be a nice halfway point that would keep them closer to friends in Portland and Newberg. That turned out to be a mistake; they eventually realized that the halfway point left them living a very isolated life, so they moved to Independence. Still, those Salem years were good years because they had Noah, their wonderful son who made Ben happier than he ever could have imagined.
The geographic distance between Ben and the church he loved in Newberg, Oregon gave Ben the chance to reflect on his growing doubts about Christianity as a whole. He realized his attachment to that kind of Christianity had been more moral and political than metaphysical or epistemological; the theology of a Friends church creates a devotion to a tolerant, servant-focused kind of Christianity, and Ben believed in what they did in the world, but it didn’t make him feel any more connected to God. Over the course of many years, Ben came to realize that he’d lost his faith. This process was more painful than his discipleship had been satisfying. He tried to process the loss, the sadness, the love, and the grief in the pages of the novel he was working on at the time, the book that would become The Sum of Our Gods, all in the context of the comic irreverence that was the hallmark of his new agnosticism.
Ben continues teaching at Central High School and loves his job. He’s passionate about the classes he teaches, like Creative Writing and Science Fiction Literature, but enjoys the students even more than the content. He’s a strong advocate for public education and for elevating and honoring the profession of teaching, so he serves as the president of his local teachers’ union and works for the statewide teachers’ union, too. Meanwhile, he writes every chance he gets. In 2013, he decided to start his own publishing company, Not a Pipe Publishing, and venture into the exciting and growing independent publishing industry. “I’m luckier than a lot of writers who slog their way through day jobs they hate. I get to work on my craft with the help of my students at a job I love, and as we learn together, I get better. I hope that shows in The Sum of Our Gods and Corporate High School. Like much of the union work I’ve done at the bargaining table, the meaning of a novel is a negotiation between the reader and the writer. I hope I’ve brought my readers a fair offer, something they’ll be pleased to accept.”