Sunday, March 31, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 27

E.J. Levy on Nancy Zafris' THE PEOPLE I KNOW

Good short stories, I’ve always believed, draw you into their worlds, but great stories convince you that their characters are out there, living their lives beyond the borders of the page. Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” is great by such a measure, as is Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” so, I would say, is Amy Hempel’s “In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried,” George Saunders’ “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” and the title story from Nancy Zafris’ hilarious and heartbreaking collection, The People I Know.

Each of these stories haunts me as if I had lived among its characters and leaves me with the sense that they are living still, somewhere out there, making their way through the world as we are. Unlike stories that I study for their craft or to steal moves, I read and reread Zafris’ collection because the stories leave me amazed by human character, baffled by how love is forged of such flimsy material as we.

In Zafris’ magnificent title story, “The People I Know,” a daughter in her senior year of high school and her mother battle with their alcoholic roommate, as the daughter battles for a foothold in her mother’s affections and the world. There is a best friend, a Heimlich maneuver, a hypochondriac, a poolside encounter, a heroic restaurant rescue, but it’s not what happens that matters so much as the sensibility it is refracted through. The daughter is indelible in a way I cannot take apart, in the way that people I love are. The things she thinks and experiences linger in my mind and return to me like memory:
“In my heart I don’t believe that he ever existed, biological necessity to the contrary. Nevertheless, references to my father always intrigue me. Because I have never seen him, not even in photographs, I dream of him in my own version of Braille—odors and shadows, and sounds (usually of a pan being thrown). There’s never a face, though often the camera follows a pair of feet. Sometimes there are several pairs of feet. They follow behind me like visible footsteps of invisible men.”
These stories range broadly in subject and setting—from a Japanese businessman pursuing a fleeting affair in Tokyo to an American metal shredder discovering riches in the trunk of a corpse-reeking car, from a mother who loses her eldest son to drowning to the widower of an alcoholic wife who finds consolation in an AA meeting.

What unites these seemingly disparate fictions is their concern for what’s missing: these are stories haunted by absence (missing corpses, missing family members; missing feelings). The Japanese businessman is mystified by his demotion to a remote island town, the coldness of his marriage, the disappearance of his childhood friend—unsure how he has lost what mattered most. The successful lawyer narrator of the final story seems mystified by her inability to feel more fiercely, as her chaotic older sister does. “Could I sense already that my future contained a procession of humble pleasures which would give more joy to others than to me…that the more alarming passions would not be mine?”

Bleak and beautiful, these stories are the best kind of funny—rising above sad; here, wit comes of close observation until heartbreak gives rise to something else, as when the protagonist of “Cosmetic Surgery” observes: “Men who liked themselves, she noticed, tended to keep their hands in their pockets, jangling their change as if their pennies were bonus testicles.” Or “Even so young, she was full of untimely obituaries. She watched each year contribute to a growing casualty list. Death of her face. Death of pleasure from being slightly ugly. Death of social embarrassment. Death of gustatory excitement. Great passions of a year ago lacked so much as the tingle of taste you get from licking a postage stamp.”

These are terrifically smart stories about which I find it hard to be smart, because to do so would reduce them, make them smaller than they are. The highest compliment I can offer. All I can really say about The People I Know is, Read It. These are people you want to know, too.




E. J. Levy is the author of LOVE, IN THEORY (2012), which is a finalist for the Edmund White Award and the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in the Paris Review, Orion, the New York Times, and Best American Essays, among other places.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 26

Peggy Des Jardines on the influence of Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor and I are on a first name basis. Having lived in Milledgeville for four years to attend Georgia College and State University before moving to Athens, I, like everyone else who has lived in Milledgeville, feel that I have a certain claim over her, as if she were a good friend of mine who everyone else only thought they knew. Just this morning I walked into the offices of the UGA Press, saw a dish of pins with peacocks on them, and assumed they were in celebration of the Flannery O’Connor award. I picked one up and thought, “Yeah right, UGA, you WISH you were GCSU.”

That may seem like a ridiculous thing to think, but when it comes to Flannery, it truly is not. Flannery O’Connor Studies is one of GC’s Programs of Distinctions, and our library boasts an extensive collection of her correspondence, original manuscripts, and her personal library, as well as many of the prints and comics she created while in school. The Flannery-centric single author class with Bruce Gentry holds the reputation of one of the most challenging and rewarding literature classes offered at GC. Students regularly reap the benefits of well-established visiting scholars, authors and poets who admit they were at least partially drawn to Milledgeville because of Flannery’s mystery and allure. Milledgevillians and GC students read and talk so much Flannery that we feel we have the right to poke fun at her every once in a while. We came to know our school as “Flannery O’College” instead of Georgia College. She is at once our big and little sister.

When I served as editor of The Peacock’s Feet, Georgia College’s literary journal whose name is obviously in honor of Flannery’s favorite bird, she was something like our badass grandmother who liked to say inappropriate things at a formal dinner table. When things went wrong, we blamed her for playing tricks on us. We advertised for poetry readings by drawing her head on the body of a peacock monster all over the campus sidewalks. We put her face on Uncle Sam’s body, saying, “Flan Wants YOU… to submit to the Peacock’s Feet.” We put her face on bags and shirts and constantly asked ourselves, “What would Flan do?” whether we were rationalizing something devious or trying to live up to her name.

I once took a class of middle-schoolers to Andalusia, Flannery’s home, where they resented me for expecting them to write about nature, and I was taken there by a poet that I resented for expecting me to write in iambic pentameter. I was also, though, distracted by the thought that she might actually be a superhero, and when she was selected by Claudia Rankine to win the 2010 Kore Press First Book Award, she served as another reminder, alongside Flannery, that big things do happen to people in small places.

Flannery gives a sense of legitimacy to the literaries of a town that most outsiders (undeservedly) pity you for having to live in, and I constantly took comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in the cynicism that comes with studying the arts in a small conservative town in the south. She’s our mascot. She’s our security blanket.

Just like Milledgeville would not be the same without Flannery, I don’t think Flannery would’ve been the same without Milledgeville. Reading her there is eerie—you can feel her and her characters everywhere. If you are a person who feels ghosts, you feel a lot of them in Milledgeville. Its history, its solitude, the antebellum architecture and the mental hospital, all of the graveyards and all of the dark corners, all the abandoned and tottering buildings that might collapse if you forget to hold your breath next to them—all of this adds up to a mystifying sense of entrapment and freedom at once. Perhaps that mystery is what allowed Flannery’s writing life to flourish there.


Peggy Des Jardines is a marketing intern at the University of Georgia Press. She graduated from Georgia College and State University in December 2012 with a BA in English/Creative Writing and a BA in Studio Art.

Friday, March 29, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 25

Jackie Gorman on Mary Clyde's SURVIVAL RATES

We are all survivors of some sort or another. That is a given. And there are as many types of survivors as there are types of events that tried and failed to destroy us, private wars with illness, grief, betrayal and loss. In Mary Clyde's superbly crafted collection of nine stories, Survival Rates, winner of the 1999 Flannery O'Connor award for short fiction, she uses the starkly beautiful desert landscape to sharpen the focus of upon this very cactus-like quality of resilience in the harshest of circumstances. She has equal compassion for both the lost and the found in these stories, observing that the difference between those who survive and those who don't may be one of the great mysteries of life and death.

In her first story, "Howard Johnson's House", the wealthy plastic surgeon takes inventory of his prized possession, this over-developed, overly decorated former home of the son of the hospitality mogul:
"Cecil's giving a tour. He's shown the saltwater fish aquarium, with its pulsing sea anemone and fluorescent pink starfish. Then the kitchen where the fireplace is large enough to roast a boar, according to a Southwest Home article. In the living room, Cecil motions toward the view, the cactus-studded mountains with their sudden bizarre rock formations. He feels daring living here, where the landscape doesn’t want to be inhabited and seems to wait patiently for him - for all of them - to go."
I read Survival Rates a decade ago, after hearing Clyde read, "in one sitting" as the saying goes, but sitting straight up in my chair and hardly blinking. And then, I read the collection again, right after attending a recent AWP session, where Alice Hoffman observed that she did not necessarily always follow the writers mantra "Write what you know" but changed it to "Write what you feel."

And my immediate thought was that Mary Clyde brilliantly ups the ante in her book. She writes exactly what her characters know and feel, but even more importantly, what they finally come to understand. In the aftermath of some sort of personal disaster, her characters painstakingly search for and eventually find a way to fit that jagged piece of despair into the rest of their lives, a fragile peace with a tragic past. It is remarkable to me that Clyde is able to accomplish this feat in each and every story.

When writer friends have found out that I was honored to be a co-winner of the Flannery O'Connor award, they tell me that they also have a collection of stories, as well. When I ask what makes it a collection, they may shrug and say that they are the best stories they have written put together in one file and sent to various contests. One thing I have learned about this award is that there must be as much attention to the structure of the collection as to the structure of each story itself. There needs to be more intensity of purpose holding them together than the writer's name. It may be a distinct yet consistent emotional tone, a pervasive landscape, or an underlying moral question that is explored, but it has to be clear to the reader that there is a careful architectural plan here that holds up until the end. For me, I often see the stories begin in darkness and literally tread forward to lighter, easier terrain.

Clyde's nine stories do exactly that, with the first story of an older man dealing with his mother's death from cancer, stories about teenagers dealing with stomach cancer, adults fighting crippling depression and disintegrating marriages, children losing parents and the parents losing children, and finally to the last one, "Jumpers" completing the cycle of life. A middle-aged woman is haunted by witnessing the death of a sixth grade friend and her favorite teacher on a church camp outing, and yet finds new comfort in the other survivor's memories at a high school reunion, thirty years later. The narrator remembers jumping from the ski lift that threw others off fatally, and graces herself with this tiny, perfect moment of revelation.
"Action won't always save you but it at least allows you to imagine you can be saved. Here is the difference. They fell to their deaths. We jumped to life."
Nine months to create a human life, and nine stories to deliver the miracle of the writing and reading life, the gift of human perspective. My story collection, The Viewing Room, shines a close-up camera upon shell-shocked survivors who are viewing the bodies of loved ones freshly dead. In Survival Rates, Mary Clyde takes that same scenario and expands it into a grander, panoramic shot, giving us the best view of all, the long view of life, that is gratifying beyond words.


Jackie Gorman is the author of the forthcoming THE VIEWING ROOM (2013). She is currently a mental health activist, training volunteers to speak to families whose loved ones are hospitalized in psychiatric centers and crisis centers. She grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and published a memoir about her family, The Seeing Glass, fifteen years ago. She has a law degree from UCLA School of Law and an MFA in Fiction from Spalding University in Louisville.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 24

E.J. Levy on Ha Jin's UNDER THE RED FLAG

Ha Jin was a poet with two collections of poetry already published when he won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, but the 12 short stories collected in his prize-winning book, Under the Red Flag (1997), have always put me more in mind of a painter’s work. A Chinese Chagall, to be exact, conjuring a mythic village life in which mix animals and humans, celebration and sorrow, in which both people and beasts seem capable of fantastic and terrible feats.

The stories’ names often have the mystery and descriptive force of painting titles: “Winds and Clouds over a Funeral,” “In Broad Daylight,” or “Again the Spring Breeze Blew.” But the painterly quality of these stories comes from the fact that almost all are distilled to essential images and marvelously visual, as when the cremation of a grandmother is described thus: “…the flames grew lower and lower as the whirring in the furnace stopped. By and by, an empty chamber could be seen through the small hole. A worker opened the furnace, in which remained a layer of ashes that looked like broken clamshells.”

Although it has been 15 years since the collection was published, these stories feel entirely fresh, like urgent news; they remain captivating and timeless, in part because of their folkloric cast. One of the pleasures of reading Jin’s collection is the glimpse it seems to offer of post-Revolution village life. Although Jin seems less documentarian than alchemist, mixing details of village life--bride prices, gang rapes, pig breeding, and the pleasures of sorghum wine and stewed hairtail, jellied bean curd and fresh jellyfish, mourning rituals, and picture-books rented from a bookstand at a village fair—with the stark unsentimental storytelling of Grimm’s fairytales.

Here post-Revolution village life is revealed in tales both grisly and mythic: In the first story, “In Broad Daylight,” two village boys witness a local beauty put on trial for seducing men away from their wives, but the trial reveals the community’s character as much as the defendant’s; through the Red Guards’ interrogation, we learn that the accused seductress has been raped and remains beloved by her cuckolded husband, who is the trial’s true victim; in ”Sovereignty,” a neighbor asks for help breeding his sow, only to inadvertently provoke a competition between his neighbors’ boars—one domestic, one foreign--which ultimately damages them all; in “Man to Be,” a young soldier engaged to the town’s most eligible young woman loses his fiancé and his prospects when he refuses to join in a gang rape, which reveals him (in his neighbors’ eyes) not as honorable but weak. Jin stories reveal both the tenderness and cruelty that distinguish village life, perhaps all rural life, where one is more keenly aware of the fact that survival is born of slaughter. At the same time, Jin’s villages are (Flag Village, Horse Village) are wonderfully particular.

In contrast to the didactic cast of many folktales, Jin’s operate outside easy morality; many of his stories conclude with a deadpan abruptness that adds—rather than detracts—from their power. These sudden endings seem an apt aesthetic given the Chinese history he lived through as a young soldier, reminding us that difficulty is rarely redemptive, that suffering does not necessarily instruct or ennoble, that change (whether political or personal) can be as sudden and pointless as death.

Ultimately, Jin’s emphasis on village traditions bespeaks the vitality of folk culture, despite the impress of political ideology. His stories attest to the endurance of those most human faults and virtues—love and jealousy, cruelty and class difference, drunkenness and rape, tenderness and sorrow—in spite of revolutionary change, regardless of the color of the flag overhead.




E. J. Levy is the author of LOVE, IN THEORY (2012), which is a finalist for the Edmund White Award and the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in the Paris Review, Orion, the New York Times, and Best American Essays, among other places.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Short Takes

The Wall Street Journal calls EAT DRINK DELTA the "perfect road trip companion."

The ETOWAH RIVER USER'S GUIDE is the first in a new series of guidebooks to be published in partnership with the Georgia River Network. The book will be printed on waterproof paper so that it is ready to go from the car seat to the canoe seat. The Rome News-Tribune has an announcement about this forthcoming book.

In a podcast for the Journal of Southern Religion, Art Remillard discusses FLASHES OF A SOUTHERN SPIRIT with author Charles Reagan Wilson and two other panelists. Listen to the podcast here.

Publishers Weekly reviews Jane Gerhard's forthcoming THE DINNER PARTY. "This thoughtful history and analysis of Judy Chicago's 1979 'feminist blockbuster,' The Dinner Party, its provocative relations with the art world, feminism, and popular culture, and eventual transformation from 'controversy to canonization,' gives second-wave feminists an opportunity to relive their turbulent roots while educating younger women—especially artists—about the struggle for rights and respect they take for granted."

Flavorwire names Melinda Moustakis as one of the "10 Best Millennial Authors You Probably Haven't Read (Yet)." "Alaskan native Melinda Moustakis’s first collection of short stories, BEAR DOWN, BEAR NORTH, won the Flannery O’Connor Award and the Maurice Prize and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. And no wonder — toughing it out in the wilderness has never sounded so beautiful."

Congratulations to Kathryn Newfont! Her book, BLUE RIDGE COMMONS, is the recipient of the 2012 Weatherford Award in Non-Fiction. Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association annually present the Weatherford Award to the authors of one nonfiction work, one fiction work, and one work of poetry, which in its year best illuminates the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South. The conferring of this annual award in each of the three categories has come to be recognized as a major Appalachian event.

Announcing the new series, Southern Foodways Alliance: Studies in Culture, People, and Place! The series is a collaboration of the University of Georgia Press and the Southern Foodways Alliance at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. Series editor John T. Edge shares the mission of the series in a new SFA blog post

In other series news, we have two new series editors for the Studies in Security and International Affairs series: William W. Keller and Scott A. Jones. Keller is professor of International Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Security at UGA; Jones is Director of Export Control Programs at the Center for International Trade and Security at UGA.

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 23

Frank Soos on David Crouse's COPY CATS

I read for different reasons. I read for well-made sentences, for fully imagined characters, for events that push characters into revelation or discovery. But I reread for stories that explain the world to me, that reveal possible ways I might fit into the world. And the stories that compel me the most are the ones that force me to see elements of myself that I'd rather not know are there.

The stories in David Crouse's Copy Cats work that way. These are fearful stories, stories about people, mostly men, who've run off the rails in one way or another. These are not evil, vicious people, rather they are delusional, inept, representative of what any of us might become when our ordinary lives are upended and we don't know what to do next.

Here's a middle-aged father in "Morte Infinita." Maybe his wife has run off with a dark handsome stranger, Stephano, or maybe she has simply run off to her sister's house because his neurosis is just too hard to take. He seems incapable of loving his wife; actually he seems incapable of loving himself which makes it hard to love anybody else, even his thirteen-year-old daughter who finally begins to understand him better than he can understand himself. The two of them go trick-or-treating as father-daughter vampires, but his costume with its white Converse All-Stars is lame, and his gestures more resemble Groucho Marx than Bela Lugosi. His final gesture, to throw a rock through his neighbor's picture window won't solve his Kiekegaardian dilemma, "To be sick to death is not to be able to die," but it is at least an action, an ugly step toward some possible meaningful action.

Kierkegaard also recognized the cure for despair was in the recognition of its symptoms. In this regard, Jonathan, the central character in "Click" is farther along. A scholarship student at a privileged school, he has fallen into a romance with Margaret, child of a successful businessman. What she has seen in him when they were students seems to have been a spark of rebellion, of creativity. Jonathan would be an art photographer, though it is hard to know whether this is a true ambition or one that Margaret has wished on him. They are living together and soon to be married despite the fact that Jonathan has lost his job—he's been fired, actually, for habitually skipping work. In his idle time, he's connected with a drug-addled woman, maybe a prostitute and a woman more sexy, vulnerable and dangerous in Jonathan's mind than she may really be. Through his photographs, he would bring her tortured qualities to the surface. But these qualities don't show up in the pictures Jonathan takes. He takes fewer pictures with each visit.

Jonathan knows he is a fraud, living a fraudulent existence. He sees the loafers outside his model's window as kindred spirits. They aren't going anywhere and neither is he. The question he cannot resolve is what to do about it. The men in "Code" and "Retreat" face similar problems. They have failed, are failing, but they don't work to solve their problems, but find short cuts for escaping them.

If there is a character who makes some effort to solve his problems it is Tom in "Swimming in the Dark." His high school hero older brother has drowned swimming in the middle of a lake, a metaphor for the family's confusion. But Tom's mother, needy and weak and hoping for a man who can save her, keeps trying to make a life for herself. Her latest loser, Harris Fencer, drives an ice cream vending truck. Tom is a passive observer of his mother's struggles to the point that he doesn't intervene when she gets in a tussle over a lamp. But he does listen and consider. And he does grow up and away from his mother and older sister and their small town. In his telling of this story, Tom begins to grow into a more thoughtful person, somebody able to see the limits of his younger self. He's been damaged by what he's experienced as a kid, but he's not ruined. He, of all the characters in Copy Cats seems to have made the best of his tumultuous circumstance.

I think of myself and most of the people I know who have decent credit ratings, whose checks don't bounce, whose lives mostly navigate between the ditches, and I wonder how much of this is just a matter of luck. A little mistake here, another there, a stumble, or an unexpected reversal and the life of a character in Copy Cats is waiting to unspool. So I reread these stories and when I don't reread them, I think of them often, troubling, cautionary tales. These people could be me; they could be any of us.

 


Frank Soos is author of UNIFIED FIELD THEORY (1998). He is also professor emeritus of English at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and author of the essay collection Bamboo Fly Rod Suite.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 22

Hayley Esther on E. J. Levy's LOVE, IN THEORY

I know the author of Love, In Theory as Professor Levy, the slightly intimidating, blazer-and-jeans wearing woman who stood confidently at the front of our classroom in Middlebush and told us that we would be writing essays that semester, and that "essay" meant, quite literally, just to try.

It was my junior year in college at the University of Missouri-Columbia and I decided to be gutsy and take Levy's creative writing class, my first in my three years as an English major. It was called "History of the Personal Essay," and we began with Montaigne and ended with David Foster Wallace, reading theory and writing our own pieces as we went along.

To put it mildly, it was a fabulous class. It was the kind of rare classroom experience that shakes you out of your comfort zone but simultaneously makes you more comfortable with yourself, and by extension, with your writing. Good or bad, Levy found a way to address our wide range of ability levels, whether we were journalism students, creative writing students, or completely inexperienced writers like myself. She told us to look at the essayists we were reading and apply aspects of their work to our own essays: the creativity of Eula Biss, the lyricism of Lia Purpura, the emotion of Cheryl Strayed.

Although Levy's essays and fiction deserve to be read alongside these "greats," she never gave us any of her work during our class, and I never sought it out until Love, In Theory was serendipitously placed in front of me when I came to work at the University of Georgia Press. I took home a copy on my first day and found Levy's stories to be exactly what I expected: detailed, precise, intelligent, and overflowing with the kind of wit and insight that made me want to underline every other sentence on the page.

For instance, the opening line of "Theory of Enlightenment": "Ever since her lover left her for an ashram in the Catskills, Renee Kirschbaum has been picking fights with strangers." This blunt, detail-packed sentence hooked me. And, throughout the story, Renee never disappoints. Her character constantly delivers sarcastic one-liners that made me want to laugh and cry. The philosophical protagonist of "My Life in Theory" created a similar response in me with her abundance of analytical and intellectual tendencies and observations. The realness of these characters and the carefulness with which Levy constructs them keeps me reaching for her collection again and again.

While I am no critic, and though I may be slightly biased, I agree with the countless number of positive reviews of Love, In Theory. Levy's stories are remarkable, and they are highly deserving of the Flannery O'Connor distinction. Levy does everything right—details, characters, language, form—while still managing to surprise and enlighten the reader. In essence, Levy accomplishes everything that she taught us to look for and pushed us to try in our personal essay class.


Hayley Esther is currently a marketing intern at the University of Georgia Press and a graduate student at the University of Georgia. She will graduate in May 2014 with a Master of Arts in English.

Monday, March 25, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 21

The Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction attracts brilliant writers from all over the United States. To illustrate the diversity of the award-winning group of writers, we compiled the authors' locations and their story settings into a comprehensive Google map available via the link below.

These authors truly come from all over the place. On the Google map, some of the authors show up in clusters in California or New York or Arizona, while others are only visible in a zoomed-out screen, as they currently live in countries as far away as Mexico and Japan.

The authors' constructed settings are as varied as their home bases. In many collections the stories all revolve around a specific location--the fictional town of Windfall, Pennsylvania in EYESORES and a close-up view of Brooklyn in AT-RISK. In others, the characters and individual stories jump from place to place--from Jerusalem to Manhattan in THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT and in places as different as Morocco and Minnesota in a collection with a title that says it all, THE BIGNESS OF THE WORLD.

The Google map of Flannery O'Connor winners and their story settings offers a visual representation of the wide-ranging backgrounds of this group of sixty talented writers. Click on the link below to see for yourself just how spread out the Flannery O'Connor Award winners really are.



View Celebrating Thirty Years of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction in a larger map

The above map shows where the Flannery O'Connor Award-winning authors live (blue pins) and--for those collections in which place is an especially strong element--where their stories are set (red pins).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 20

As part of the 30th anniversary for the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, we are introducing two e-book only anthologies.

STORIES FROM THE FLANNERY O'CONNOR AWARD: A 30th ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY: THE RECENT YEARS is edited by Nancy Zafris and includes selections from volumes published in the past fifteen years (1998-2012). Contributing authors include Amina Gautier, Andrew Porter, Anne Panning, Barbara Sutton, Bill Roorbach, Catherine Brady, Dana Johnson, Darrell Spencer, David Crouse, E. J. Levy, Ed Allen, Eric Shade, Frank Soos, Gary Finke, Geoffrey Becker, Gina Ochsner, Greg Downs, Hester Kaplan, Hugh Sheehy, Jessica Treadway, Kellie Wells, Linda LeGarde Grover, Lori Ostlund, Margot Singer, Mary Clyde, Melinda Moustakis, Peter LaSalle, Peter Selgin, Randy F. Nelson, Robert Anderson

STORIES FROM THE FLANNERY O'CONNOR AWARD: A 30th ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY: THE EARLY YEARS is edited by Charles East and covers the first fifteen years (1983-1997). Contributing authors include Alfred DePew, Alyce Miller, Andy Plattner, Antonya Nelson, C. M. Mayo, Carol Lee Lorenzo, Carole L. Glickfeld, Christopher McIlroy, Daniel Curley, David Walton, Debra Monroe, Dennis Hathaway, Dianne Nelson Oberhansly, François Camoin, Gail Galloway Adams, Ha Jin, Harvey Grossinger, Leigh Allison Wilson, Mary Hood, Melissa Pritchard, Molly Giles, Nancy Zafris, Paul Rawlins, Peter Meinke, Philip F. Daver, Rita Ciresi, Robert H. Abel, Salvatore La Puma, Sandra Thompson, Susan Neville, T. M. McNally, Tony Ardizzone, Wendy Brenner

Both e-books are available from Amazon for the Kindle and Barnes and Noble for the Nook.

For THE RECENT YEARS:
Download the Kindle version here.
Download the Nook version here.

For THE EARLY YEARS:
Download the Kindle version here.
Download the Nook version here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 19

Bill Roorbach on Antonya Nelson's THE EXPENDABLES

Possibly the best way to discuss Antonya Nelson's stories would be to quote from one. Even better would be to reproduce a whole story, maybe the whole book of stories: then you'd know more than I can ever tell you. Like the woman (who is a friend, this post a toast), they're funny, they're deep, they're weird at times, with powerful narrators who aren't quite sure what to make of things, and huge casts of characters swirling around them like dust devils, and all the stuff of life: pets, food, dirt, love, disaffection, appointments, family, friends.

But I'll just quote a paragraph from the title story (whose narrator is male, not something the reader needs much to think about, as Nelson makes it clear immediately and keeps it clear: this guy's no girl in disguise):
Yvonne's roommates pulled up and I cringed along with my mother, though we'd both seen their car plenty of times. They'd hand painted an old Falcon purple and gold. Over the hood was an enormous silver cross. Other identifiable shapes dotted a landscape of gold clouds and purple hills. A rainbow broke in half when the passenger door opened. Neither of my sister's roommates had a driver's license or insurance, and whenever they parked they always left the key in the ignition. They'd once told me they believed responsibility had to come from within.
This comes in the early middle of the sotry, but it could easily be the first paragraph of a great story or the last. It carries within it the whole story as any great paragraph should, and all the genius of Nelson (did I say she's a friend? Clink!). There's the management of a large cast, the disruption of order, the central object, in this case a Ford Falcon, which was the budget Ford of its day. Its paint job tells us who these people are with clarity and precision and economy. That a rainbow breaks in half, well, that tells us about the dreams of youth, impossible to begin with, no better now that the paint has been spread, breakable and unreal. The whole crew (along with the story) is clearly headed for trouble, or at least life. The narrator decides he could easily live with these young women, all but one.

Donw the street from the wedding of the sister of the narrator a funeral is going on in the home of folks who might be gypsies, anyway, that's what the narrator's family calls them. The sexy jerk his sister is marrying arrives with his cohort just as the funeral procession comes down the street toward the church at the other end, also just as the narrator is attempting to park the Falcon, his job for the day. And the groomsmen don't bow their heads in respect, far from it—instead they shout and taunt the so-called Gypsies. "No more dying today!"

Wow. The big people, here, the gypsies, ignore them utterly, carry on. Later our narrator smuggles a huge fruit basket off the gift pile and down the block and offers it up in apology. That's enough: this guy, we love him. Why? Because he's good, he's kind, he's transcended his destiny.

Meanwhile, the new brother-in-law gets shot in the face, whether by friends or enemies it's unclear, hit or hazing, doesn't matter.

You can tell a great story when it's impossible to read on. You need a day to think. Then on to the next story and then the next, never in order, often more than once, in this case readings two decades apart. But let me tell you: This is a collection that holds up. And Tony is better than ever.


Bill Roorbach is the author of BIG BEND (2001). His latest book is Life Among Giants, a novel. Find him on the Web at www.billroorbach.com and www.billanddavescocktailhour.com.

Friday, March 22, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 18

Rita Ciresi on Tony Ardizzone's THE EVENING NEWS

"More Than The Evening News"

The year that Tony Ardizzone's The Evening News was published, I was a first-year student in the MFA program at Penn State. My knowledge of contemporary short fiction consisted of the following: there were the stories printed in The New Yorker, which were all about yuppies summering in Nantucket, yuppies wearing designer clothes and doing designer drugs, and yuppies in an endless quest for the perfect piece of real estate. And then there were stories written by Raymond Carver, about down-and-outers swilling too much whiskey, waiting on tables and driving trucks, and worrying about paying the rent.

Needless to say, I identified much more strongly with the world of Carver. After all, I had grown up in a declining working-class neighborhood in Connecticut. My quest to better myself by going to college and grad school had driven me into such a deep grave of debt that every Saturday I stood in the Whiteway Super Market, lifting items in and out of my shopping cart because I had only fifteen dollars tops to spend on groceries each week.

Although every other MFA student I knew professed admiration for Carver, our conversations about contemporary writing always turned back to The New Yorker. Which lucky author had a story in its coveted pages this week? Each time I lifted the latest issue off the rack at the Fred Pattee Library and turned to the fiction offering, my heart would sink.

You see, I did not want to write about yuppies. Or drugs. Or real estate. I wanted to write about where I came from, which was a litter-strewn, once exclusively Italian neighborhood that rapidly was "going bad." I wanted to write about girls named Angelina and Donna and boys named Vinnie and Frankie. I wanted to write about nuns and priests and shoemakers and bakers. But who would be interested in publishing that?

The Flannery O'Connor Award in Short Fiction provided me with the answer. One Saturday afternoon after replacing The New Yorker on the rack, I wandered over to the new books section in Pattee Library. And there I found a thin volume of short stories. On its drab gray cover: dark buildings, telephone wires, a dim streetlight. Although the title—The Evening News—intrigued me, I found myself even more intrigued by the author's last name. Ardizzone? Aha! At last: A writer whose last name probably would get misspelled even more often than mine.

I remember taking The Evening News into a secluded corner of the library and finding within its pages characters named Gino and Mrs. Bagnola and Sister Immaculata. Not all of them were Italian. But they all were something: Irish, Polish, Lithuanian. They went to church! And shopped at the local market. They fought on the playground. And watched TV. They lived the way I wanted my characters to live. And Tony Ardizzone wrote the kind of simple, character-driven, dialogue-rich stories I someday hoped to write.

From that day forward, I stopped looking to The New Yorker to find my literary inspiration (and despair). I began seeking out the work of other authors—Stuart Dybek, Richard Russo—who also dared to write about people who ate cold pizza for breakfast. And I continued to read the work of Tony Ardizzone—from Heart of the Order to In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu to The Whale Chaser—admiring his strong storytelling skills, his ability to describe both the ugly and the beautiful, and his sympathetic view of characters who, although they were not "literary" in the least, still had compelling stories to tell.

I thank the Flannery O'Connor Award in Short Fiction--and Mr. Ardizzone—for giving me that first glimpse of what my own writing life might someday be.


Rita Ciresi is the author of the short story collections MOTHER ROCKET (1993) and Sometimes I Dream in Italian, and the novels Blue Italian, Pink Slip, Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and Bring Back My Body to Me.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 17

Melinda Moustakis on Hugh Sheehy's THE INVISIBLES

In Hugh Sheehy’s beautiful and heart-haunting collection The Invisibles, one is constantly reminded of the problem of seeing—of not being seen, of wanting and not wanting to be seen, of being seen by the wrong people. The image of a scarecrow makes an appearance in two stories, and rightfully so, for like scarecrows, many of the characters here are isolated and lonely, and at times, powerless to defend themselves or those around them from danger. One doesn’t see real scarecrows out in fields anymore, but this book suggests that maybe we haven’t been looking for them and they’ve been there all along. Sheehy’s Invisibles are shadow-creatures, doppelgangers, adolescents, the teacher who becomes trapped at school during a snowstorm, the former sorority girl on the run, the addict on his way home to see his family after two years, the surfer who lives in a trailer near the beach.

Basements, too, appear in multiple stories, as places of private pain that become public when it is too late, or reminders of buried feelings, or places of entrapment, or of the unthinkable. In “Meat and Mouth,” the first story in the collection, a teacher and her student are locked in a basement after witnessing a murder. For all the gruesome details, the harm and the cruelty depicted, there is an equal measure of tenderness in the book. Which is refreshing and honest and admirable. Those that disappear are given their due. As are those that remember the missing or the deceased. And even those that are on the verge of losing it, of committing some unspeakable crime, are shown in their tragic cloaks. There’s a keen sense of smallness and being overwhelmed by the world for all of the characters, as if they were cut from the same invisible cloth.

Sheehy has written an elegiac and elegant book about quiet sorrows, but the writing here is not quiet. His prose is full of energy and exactness and suspense. The book captures many different perspectives with ease, such as Wheeler, the narrator of the story “A Difficult Age,” which begins: Look at it this way. Fourteen years old and I stand six feet two inches high, a lummox with charm like the muttering lord of the dead. Last summer most of my mom’s breasts were removed, which is no excuse, though it is a reason why I began to hate everyone. She shed her hair, I grew mine to my shoulders and dyed it black (128). Or that of newly pregnant Hazel in “Henrik the Viking,” which begins: Six weeks, seven. Perhaps one-third of women experienced bleeding or spotting during their first trimester. About thirty percent of them miscarried. This last fact should not scare them…(73). The tension in these stories is palpable and taut, often beginning in the first paragraph of the stories.

For being so forgettable and overshadowed in their daily lives, the Invisibles were quite unforgettable on the page and in my mind. They seemed to creep their way into my life. I was mostly finished with the collection when February 14th rolled around and I wondered what the Invisibles would do on Valentine’s Day, and I shuddered to think of how the holiday would remind them of their loneliness. Which is to say, their world became my world, and that’s the biggest compliment of all.

 


Melinda Moustakis is the author of BEAR DOWN, BEAR NORTH (2011). It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and the Washington State Book Award. She was named a 2011 "5 Under 35" writer by the National Book Foundation and is currently a 2012-2013 Hodder Fellow at The Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 16

Eric Shade on Melinda Moustakis' BEAR DOWN, BEAR NORTH

Viewing a map of the United States, one may tend automatically to overlook the nation’s two geographical extremes—Hawaii, the honeymoon getaway—and, of course, Alaska, that great, sprawling immensity, more Canada than America, which seems to occupy at least a third if not more of the territory of the Continental United States. Melinda Moustakis’ book will no longer let map viewers let Alaska hide in the periphery of their vision.

What is additionally and fundamentally remarkable about the stories contained in the book is that the state’s major cities—Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau—are themselves on the periphery. Most, if not all, of the action happens outdoors, or in ramshackle cabins, with the Kenai River as a frequent point of reference.

Most immediately demanding of our attention when reading Moustakis’ stories (and what has already deservedly been mentioned) is the striking imagery, particularly in “The Mannequin in Soldotna,” where the hospital staff decorates a mannequin with fishing hooks—hooks that have in fact been removed from patients and set into the mannequin, we imagine, as a warning to locals about the dangers of fishing—especially drunken fishing, fishing with amateurs, or fishing with folks where the relationship is strained.

There is more grotesque imagery, and plenty of brutality—both physical and emotional—but were Moustakis to rely merely on the unsavory and violent, the book would run the risk of seeming one-dimensional, even cruel to its own very charming characters. Instead, Moustakis tempers the freakish and frightening with, first, a generous supply of descriptions of the natural scenery; second, a fine-tuned, grim sense of humor; and third, a recurring, important theme regarding the complicated relationships between women, particularly mothers and daughters, in a land where the traditional gender roles are useless, in a land where women have to be as good—even better—than the men at providing basic sustenance for their families.

In more than one instance a sentence asks for rereading, not due to a lack of a reader’s initial understanding, but to appreciate again the savoriness of the phrasing. Consider this paragraph, a sketch subtitled “Run” from the story “The Mannequin in Soldotna”: “The salmon swim from river into ocean. They fatten up on shrimp and squid, growing until they are two of themselves. Thousands of miles after, the salmon ache for the milky blue waters of the Kenai. Their bodies quiver, and with one sudden pulse of blood, they turn degrees of north, they turn toward home.”

A fine (if pleasantly disturbing) example of the books’ humor appears in “Miners and Trappers.” “It’s, as Jack says, fucking February, when everyone goes crazy and shoots themselves in the head. Jean locks up his guns from Christmas to Easter, Baby Jesus to Dead Jesus to Just Kidding Jesus.”

Finally, what holds the book together thematically is the tension between mothers and daughters. Mothers who challenge their daughters to toughen up. Mothers who exaggerate their own toughness. Daughters who don’t believe their mothers’ stories. Mothers who insist that their own daughters have the option of having a life outside of the same harsh conditions with which they’ve become all too familiar. “This One Isn’t Going to be Afraid,” a series of anecdotes subtitled according to parts of the body, is perhaps the story that best exemplifies this theme. In the final section, called “Cheekbones,” the narrator, now living in California, recalls an old photograph of her maternal ancestors. “[T]hey have braided hair at the napes of their necks and are standing next to a 130-pound halibut. . .a line of black bass and ling cod lie dead in front of their fishing boots. My mother and grandmother and great-grandmother smile wide, smile with their whole bodies, but to me, their bones speak a louder truth. They say: We are stronger than you.”

All in all, this is a remarkable collection not only for the reasons mentioned above, but also because it stakes out—with authority gained from experience—the fishing and hunting and outdoorsmanship territory traditionally reserved for men, men like Ernest Hemingway or Rick Bass.

 


Eric Shade is the author of EYESORES (2003). He was born in rural Pennsylvania and is a graduate of Penn State University and the University of Houston. He lives with his family in Tokyo, Japan.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 15

Sandra Thompson on Dana Johnson's BREAK ANY WOMAN DOWN

When I saw reviews of Dana Johnson’s novel, Elsewhere, California, published last year, I remembered reading her first book and what a surprise that book was. Break Any Woman Down felt so fresh, so real, so non-BS. and its stories were about things I wasn’t used to seeing in short story collections, which can tend to be a little PC or maybe it’s just the writers’ lives are that way.

Dana Johnson was different. Take the title story, "Break Any Woman Down." (A great title!) A stripper named LaDonna falls for an actor in third-rate porn films. He makes her stop stripping and get an office job but they spend their free time watching his films in a never-ending loop of sex that always ends the same way whether what you see on the screen is the real thing or a substitute, like glue. It’s a long story about a relationship that in its specifics is different from any I’ve read but at its core is pretty universal. A girl falls in love, thinks the guy cares about her until he doesn’t anymore and she realizes he never really did.

In the collection, the other stories I like best are the first and last, "Melvin in the Sixth Grade" and "Markers." They involve the same character, a black girl named Avery who is nine years old when her family moves from the L.A. of the Crips and the Bloods to white suburbia.

In the first story we meet the child Avery, new to the suburbs and in love with an outcast white kid named Melvin. She’s a girl smart enough to see the way she starts methodically making changes to herself to fit into her new world, dropping the things that don’t fit, even if she thinks she loves them.

The last story is Avery at 28, living with an older Italian man in a posh house on an L.A. hillside. On a hot day, late to prepare for a dinner party, Avery gets lost driving her mother to the food stamp office. Her mother, a motel maid, never learned how to drive and goes by markers as she did when she lived in Arkansas. Avery is at the breaking point until she realizes something new about her mother and her—and what getting lost means.

When I picked up Dana Johnson’s novel, Elsewhere, California, I met the same Avery, now 40, and at the point where she is ready to make sense of the woman she has become. To get there, she tells the rest of her story, beginning at the beginning, but shifting back and forth from the childhood Avery of the sixth grade and Melvin to the grown up woman in the big expensive house and her mother. It’s a subtle, complicated, and compelling story.

I’m always struck that the Flannery O’Connor Award is the beginning in publishing for so many writers—as it was for Dana Johnson and for me. I love to see one of us publish that next book (and the next and next).

I’m reading her new novel now, but I feel like an insider. I got into Dana Johnson ten years ago.




Sandra Thompson is the author of CLOSE-UPS (1984) and Wild Bananas, a novel. She was an editor and columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. A native of Chicago and longtime resident of Brooklyn, she lives in Tampa, Florida, with her husband, Chris Sherman.

Monday, March 18, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 14

Gina Oschner on Melissa Pritchard's SPIRIT SEIZURES

"Short But Never Shallow"

In a genre frequently maligned for its brevity, a suggestion which implies slightness, narrowness, myopia, or worse, a lack of depth, Melissa Pritchard dances circles around naysayers, proving just how much light, weight, and power a good short story can possess. Intelligent, articulate, agile, and intuitive, the stories of Pritchard’s Spirit Seizures exhibit the qualities master short story writer Italo Calvino insists all good stories must: lightness, precision and exactitude. Pritchard demonstrates quick, deft movements within character and outside of character that keep her stories jostling between mystery and irony. In “Companions” young, lame-hipped Lora Lee believes she has been impregnated by a good Christian boy whose attempt to heal her is little more than clumsy petting. Unhealed but believing that she’s carrying a child “about the size of a ten-cent jawbreaker” Lora Lee embarks on a bus ride home to her domineering and eccentric mother. On the bus a disfigured man with a small dog befriends her and by way of advice says, “Let me tell you something. A man has got to have a companion. A man has got to have one living thing that the thinks of beyond his own self. Otherwise he’s no darn better off than dead.”

The need for “that one living thing” and the notion that without it one might as well be dead burns within the heart and sensibilities of Deidre, a middle-aged woman noticing the slow betrayals of her own body and the shift in power and affection, the complicities and many compromises a mother and wife makes (often at her own expense) to please her teenaged daughter and husband. Complicity coils tight in “A Dying Man” when the narrator, who is in fact dying, discovers that his wife and mistress forge over his deathbed a friendship stronger than any friendship he’d ever experienced.

Being no better off than the dead haunts drab forty-two year old Elsa, truculent companion to her mother during a various excursions through Rome. Elsa finds the mandatory sights (the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Fountain of Trevi) noteworthy, dutifully compressing them into postcards of cheer for family and friends back home. But it’s the unscripted spontaneous excursion sans mother to the crypts that truly impresses: “Skeletons of forty thousand Capuchin monks . . . dismantled and reset into primitive mosaics. . .umbles and whorls of thigh bones, mushroom-cap skulls . . .blackened clumps of human heart.” In a revelatory moment, Elsa asks a nearby monk “Is there more?” The monk silently points to a solemn reminder printed on a sign:
Once we were like you
You will be
Like us one day
An answer to the question she didn’t know until that moment she needed to ask, Elsa returns to her mother outwardly unchanged, inwardly a-jangle. The jostle of the body’s husk, the rattle of the human shell allows Elsa and many characters like her to contemplate a question few dare to ask: Is there something more than this? Unexpected reversals, betrayal, and discovery catapult Pritchard’s characters into spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical instability. Lacking firm ground upon which to stand, lacking a firm sense of self in some cases, characters find themselves wobbling between possibility and change. In the title story “Spirit Seizures” the character Lurancy falls into trances during which the spirit of a dead girl sets up residence in her flesh and recalls past events and can even play mordant tunes on the piano. The point of which seems that the push and pull of our bodies and the connection between the living and dead are more tangible than perhaps her characters want to acknowledge. Lest the stories languish in object lesson, Pritchard architects her narration in series of playful, mischievous flashbacks; jump-cuts; reversals; metamorphosis and transformations; and other reminders that a story should and ought to be light, mischievous, and playful. Otherwise we will ask: Is there more? Fortunately, in Pritchard’s stories, where bizarre and ordinary meet in the most unexpected ways, there is always something more.


Gina Ochsner is the author of THE NECESSARY GRACE TO FALL (2002), the novel The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight, and the short story collection People I Wanted to Be. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review, and many other magazines. She has received the Ruth Hindman Foundation Prize, the Raymond Carver Prize, and the Chelsea Award for Short Fiction. In addition to winning the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, The Necessary Grace to Fall also won the Oregon Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, and was an Austin Chronicle Top Ten Pick. Ochsner lives in western Oregon with her husband and children.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 13

Tom Kealey on Lori Ostlund's THE BIGNESS OF THE WORLD

I’ve known my friend David Roderick for fifteen years, through graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, into the Stegner Fellows Program at Stanford University, and on to the University of North Carolina Greensboro where he teaches and I visit. If there’s a person who knows my literary likes and sensibilities more than David, they are probably working too hard. So, when he sticks a book in my hand and says “This author is from your tribe,” I tend to pay attention.

A couple of years ago he gave me the 2008 Flannery O’Connor Prize winner, The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund. I was immediately taken by the two children in the opening story (the title story), especially by their precociousness and their fascination with their caretaker, Ilsa Maria Lumpkin, who quotes from Oscar Wilde, holds proudly to her older world values, and who, unknowingly, helps shield the children from their mother’s forthcoming financial calamity and scandal. Characters throughout the book are often on the verge of calamity, or nestled deeply within it, yet they maintain a plucky, often Midwest courage and determination that sees them through.

You could choose almost any character in The Bigness of the World and you would find some combination of charming, quietly passionate and frightened; curious and perceptive about the world; certainly quite intelligent; and most notably with that remarkable calmness in the midst of turmoil and crisis. One teacher in the book enters her classroom to find the sentence “MISS LUNDSTROM & MISS SHAPIRO ARE LEZZIE LOVERS!!” scrawled on the blackboard. The sentence is meant to degrade, expose, and humiliate, and certainly not to celebrate, yet to our delight Ms. Lundstrom leads her class of teenagers on a grammatical and composition lesson, challenging the use of exclamation points and ampersands, and especially the redundancy of ‘lezzie’ or even ‘lesbian’ in a sentence about two women. After a full lesson and collaborative discussion, they very maturely arrive at the clarifying and satisfying final edit of “Ms. Lundstrom and Ms. Shapiro are lovers.”

What a joy this collection is, especially in its exploration of characters that take on challenges and setbacks not head-on, but by a step to the side first, a moment to consider and decode, and then a reengagement. Why be outraged, when there is a teaching moment available? Why be defeated when you can subvert? In “All Boy,” our character Harold is shockingly locked into a dark closet by a strange babysitter. But instead of being overwhelmed, he actually learns to enjoy the time alone and seems to agree with his mother who later observes, “it could not hurt to learn how the sightless got by.” If there is tragedy and fear in these situations, and there almost always is, the characters acknowledge but do not bow to that fear.

There are world travelers aplenty in this collection, and we get to see much of the bigness of the world. We arrive in or just back from Belize, Hong Kong, Spain, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and Ostlund infuses her characters with a patience, curiosity, and resignation that may be international but is shared with her native Minnesotans. This is perfectly captured when a Mr. Narayanasamy reflects about a troublesome Malaysian colleague “the way that one would refer to laundry on the line several minutes after it has begun to rain.” In their travels, Ostlund’s characters find the unique but also the familiar.

The children though stand out to me in particular, especially six year old Annabel from “The Day You Were Born.” Ostlund has a wonderful knack for capturing the dispositions, humor, and world-building of children, as when Annabel observes a collection of yard tools in a garage:
‘Why do they need a dozen rakes?’ She was six and had just learned in school that twelve was also called a dozen, and she thought about this often, wondering why there were two words for the number twelve. It seemed unnecessary, unnecessary and odd, for if a number were going to be given two names, the number ten seemed more deserving.
Yet, to the reader, Annabel is in the midst of a terrifying situation with her father, who is possibly schizophrenic and certainly unable to care for her. He spends days with his shirt off because of perceived maggots under his skin, makes her disturbing lunches such as celery sticks with mayonnaise and chocolate sprinkles, and fiercely decries the behavior of Annabel’s much saner mother. Annabel takes these things in stride, and yet another of the great strengths of The Bigness of the World is how these suppressed emotions and reactions will eventually burst forth, as when our teacher Ms. Lundstrom breaks down in front of her class on a seemingly normal day. Deep meanings and connections are excavated and explored throughout these stories.

And who can resist a book with such lovely dialogue, situations, sensibility, and original characters who insist upon the delightfully specific: “Nobody walks to the Mennonites. And the Mennonites, for their part, do not walk to us.” And who can resist the polite, yet determined response: “Well, we’re walking. So if you would be kind enough to point us in the right direction, we would be grateful.”


Tom Kealey is the author of the forthcoming THIEVES I'VE KNOWN (2013). He is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, where he was a Stegner Fellow from 2001-2003. He is also the author of The Creative Writing MFA Handbook. His stories have appeared in Best American NonRequired, Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, and Poets and Writers. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award in 2001.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 12

Amanda Hauther on the Flannery O'Connor Award Internship

I began interning at the University of Georgia Press in the spring of 2012, working specifically on the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. I am excited to be able to continue to work on the contest throughout this spring as well. The contest brings in new and exciting works of short fiction, an area in which the Press rarely publishes. Having a contest for creative writers creates an exciting atmosphere, as the stories are often so different from the other series we produce.

The short fiction contest allows me to read material wholly different from what the Press usually publishes. Spring is the best season for this contest, in my opinion, with its general air of excitement. There’s a definite breath of creativity that these stories carry. The contest compiles authors from all over with different perspectives and thoughts. Their stories had me staying late at the office to read the end of a chapter. It‘s inspiring to read through these stories by hopeful writers from all over the United States.

Since I began last spring, I’ve seen Tom Kealey’s collection Thieves I've Known, and Jacquelin Gorman’s collection The Viewing Room, go from two of 425+ submissions to production, and am very much looking forward to seeing them as finished books. I remember seeing the collections as they came in through the submission manager, and recognized these collections when the winners were announced. Gorman’s was one of the collections that really hooked my attention when I first read through it. The Viewing Room has such strong characters and the style of switching from the inside of the viewing room to everyday interactions makes this collection unique and intriguing. Upon the announcement, I went back and read over both of these collections and I distinctly remembered Kealey’s strong imagery from the first few chapters I had read over when he first submitted it. Kealey’s writing style is dynamic and the first few lines drew me in.

These two collections are the first that I worked on at the Press. Seeing them go through the entire publication process—from submission, to winning, to copyediting, design, and publication—was exciting for me to be a part of.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the contest. I have seen writing styles that are unique in their own specific ways. Since the contest is blind, part of my job is to scan the manuscripts as they come in for anything that would make the author known to a judge. Because I do this, I have the privilege of being able to read over the collections. That’s the best part. The creativity often amazes me. These manuscripts are overflowing with great ideas that are different from anything I have read before. Some of the authors have recognizable names from being published in journals or magazines. Most are not though, and the Press’s contest gives these authors a chance to have their work made available to a wide readership. It’s an exciting contest with which to be involved— I can’t wait to see what stories the writers bring to the table this year!


Amanda Hauther is currently an acquisitions intern at the University of Georgia Press and a senior at the University of Georgia. She will graduate in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Short Takes

The March issue of Saveur contains a review of EAT DRINK DELTA, as well as the recipe for the Rhett Butler Cocktail. "It's a book that, if used properly, will wind up tattered and dog-eared in your glove compartment. . . . Together these two Deltaphiles [Susan Puckett and Langdon Clay] have created a keeper of a book—one that inspires exploration both in the kitchen and on the road."

Congratulations to Natalie J. Ring! Her book, THE PROBLEM SOUTH, is a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Most Significant Scholarly Book. The winner will be formally announced at TIL's annual awards banquet on April 6.

Coleman Barks, author of the new HUMMINGBIRD SLEEP, is on the cover of this week's Flagpole. Reviewer John G. Nettles describes HUMMINGBIRD SLEEP as "a love-letter and a meditation, laced with mortality, humility and naked wonder, well worth reading and rereading."

Congratulations to E. J. Levy! Her book, LOVE, IN THEORY, has been getting a lot of award attention lately. It is a finalist in the Adult Fiction: Short Stories category for ForeWord Reviews' Book of the Year Awards. Winners will be announced June 28. It is also a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Short Fiction from the Lambda Literary Foundation. Winners will be announced June 3.

An enthusiastic review of THE NATURAL COMMUNITIES OF GEORGIA appears on the Using Georgia Native Plants blog. "This is a wonderful resource for the people of Georgia – it should be in the hands of every person in Georgia that appreciates the uniqueness of our natural communities and in every public and school library."

Art Rosenbaum's 1997 classic, SHOUT BECAUSE YOU'RE FREE, is mentioned in a recent Knoxville News Sentinel article on the ancient tradition of the ring shout.

Jamey Essex, author of DEVELOPMENT, SECURITY, AND AID, was interviewed for CJAM 99.1FM's "Research Matters." Listen to the interview here.

WTBF-AM/FM's "On the Bookshelf" reviews THE RISE AND DECLINE OF THE REDNECK RIVERA, and the host, Doc Kirby, interviews author Harvey H. Jackson III about his book. The review and interview are available here.

EcoShock Radio interviewed Phil Cafaro, co-editor of LIFE ON THE BRINK, for a program about climate change and population. A write-up of the interview is available here. The interview itself can be listened to/downloaded here (lo-res quality) and here (high-res quality).

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 11

Lori Ostlund on Jessica Treadway's PLEASE COME BACK TO ME

I prefer to write about work that slightly intimidates me, that leaves me feeling both that I could never quite do justice to it and that I would very much like to try—which is why I chose to review Jessica Treadway's collection Please Come Back To Me. The collection is made up of seven stories and a novella. Treadway touches on a variety of themes—family and the tensions that often exist at its core; the tenuousness of memory; and the suddenness with which tragedy can hit (one’s husband drives drunk and kills someone, a son is accused of an unsettling crime), taking one in a direction neither imagined nor planned for.

I first read the book shortly after it was released in the fall of 2010, and I remember feeling, as I read, that Treadway and I should be friends, by which I simply mean that the things that we want from a book are often the same things that we want from friendships—to be intellectually stimulated, to discover a way of seeing the world that reframes the way that we currently see it rather than just reflecting our view, and to feel pleasure in the other’s presence. In rereading Please Come Back To Me, I felt all of these things all over again, the experience this time one of reuniting with an old friend and feeling that same kinship.

I was struck, again, by the utter precision with which Treadway writes. As a reader, I like feeling that the writer has done the necessary work—has chosen each word with care, has forged each sentence to convey precisely what the author means to say rather than lazily getting close enough. There is no way to cover everything about Treadway’s book that impresses or delights, so instead I will meander through some its pleasing particulars. Let’s begin with Treadway’s details and observations, which are sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes both. Since the joy in reading begins at the local level of the sentence, let me point out one of my favorites. In “Oregon,” a story about a relationship between two friends who assign different meaning to the friendship, Treadway succinctly establishes the power imbalance in this way: “Elizabeth…dialed Deborah’s number, which she felt embarrassed to know by heart (because surely Deborah would have to open her own address book to locate Elizabeth).”

Sometimes, memories populate Treadway’s stories in such a way that they reveal a fissure in the character’s present life, becoming the “do-over” moment that the character fixates on and which defines his or her regret. This is the case in one of my favorite stories, “Dear Nicole,” in which twelve-year-old Gerald accidentally knocks out a girl with a hockey puck and, in the way of such things, goes on to marry her. The story is set in the present-day of his marriage: he and his wife, Nicole, have two children, and over the years, Gerald has come to see the truth about his wife—that she lacks compassion and generosity of spirit, that he was blinded by guilt and a misplaced sense of responsibility, that this marriage (i.e., that accident) has robbed him of the life he should have had. When another spectator from that evening, a girl named Allie who was sitting next to Nicole and was nearly hit instead, resurfaces, joking in a letter that the puck and thus Gerald were meant for her, Gerald becomes fixated on the accident. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of parallel lives—that is, the notion that our lives could have gone in a dramatically different direction but for a certain moment or decision. Through the image of the hockey puck, soaring through the night air, Treadway traces the arc of just such an event: “There was a moment during which they all lost time—they knew the puck was flying somewhere, but they couldn’t see it.”

Perhaps all writers are intrigued by memory, by the way that fictionalizing something autobiographical, for example, alters forever our memory of what really happened. We all know, that is, that memories and truth are fluid. In my favorite story in the collection, “Testimony,” Maxine has gone to help her sister Tillie with her new baby. Tillie has, with the assistance of a therapist, recently recalled childhood sexual abuse at the hands of their father. Maxine knows that she is wrong and does not want to talk about it or even think about. Instead, she thinks about the goats:
They’d been given the goats the spring Maxine was eleven and Tillie nine. Tillie went by Tildra now; she corrected anyone who tried to use the nickname, even Maxine, which Maxine considered cheeky because she was here, after all, to do her sister a favor. But back then, in upstate Crete, New York, they had been Max and Tillie and didn’t think twice about what they were called. Together they settled on the names Pete and Smiley for the two goats, which their father had waiting as a surprise in a pen he’d built behind the garage.
When these goats escape and die on the highway, their father brings home yet another goat, this one named Clover. Clover lives a week before succumbing to Vitamin E deficiency. For Maxine, the goats are a symbol of her childhood—of her father’s love as well as a simpler time with her sister, a time before her sister became Tildra and began remembering repressed memories. We soon learn that Tildra does not remember the goats, but this is to be expected. She is angry at Maxine for her disloyalty.

As readers, we imagine that the story might be about false memories. Instead, we get this: the father does not remember the goats either. Everything crumbles—our trust in Maxine’s version of the past, our sense of the story. Rather than moving toward clarity, Treadway leaves us stuck in the muddiness of memory. As a writer, what I am particularly in awe of is the goats. Treadway understood that everything hinged on them, on having details of a memory so unusual, so well-sketched, that to doubt it seemed not even a consideration—three dead goats with names.


 

Lori Ostlund is the author of THE BIGNESS OF THE WORLD (2009). She has taught in Spain, Malaysia, and New Mexico and currently lives and teaches in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in such journals as the Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and Hobart.