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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Dorothy Allison, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. writerly responsibilities and rewards: words from the wise Dorothy Allison (yesterday, Kelly Writers House)

Dorothy Allison is one of three Kelly Writers House Fellows hosted this semester by Penn professor and poet Julia Bloch.

Yesterday she sat among us, in conversation with us. There, beside Julia, she is.

Oh, I liked her. So very much. She's everything you've been told she will be. Iconoclastic. Irreverent. Touching. A firebrand of deep opinion and great craft cares who may believe in the act of revenge on the page, but only when the author holds him- or herself equally accountable for the unforgivable past. We writers, we survivors, may not be the heroes we think we are, Allison reminds us. We have responsibilities. Work that lasts is work that is rich with a felt sense of responsibility.

Any writer who believes that writing is a mere game—a toss-off and toss-up of the randomly odd, the relentlessly clever, the tried and true brand—must spend a bracing hour and change in the company of Allison. Sitting beside my friend Nathaniel Popkin and just one row ahead of August Tarrier (Jamie-Lee Josselyn waving a hand from the near distance, one of my students a few rows back, Lily Applebaum at the mike ready), I filled my little notebook with Allison's words. I'm going to share a few of them here—transcribed as nearly as I could, but not always verbatim. Spread them, oh ye writers and readers who care.

In response to Julia's questions about craft (comments from across the conversation, gathered here): Craft sharpens the contradictions. It produces prose that takes the reader by the throat. Craft requires writers to read as writers, not as readers, and so we writing readers cannot merely wallow; we must assess. To make a reader care, the writer must keep paring the prose down, constructing the truth, acknowledging one's purpose. You are going for the long reach, not the quick tears. You want to haunt a reader six months on. The more talent you have, the more responsibility you have.

On writing with compassion: Recognize that you will never get it right. Recognize that those who survived, who got out of there alive, are in some ways the cowards, the ones who had to compromise. Hold yourself accountable for the choices you made. Recognize that you have a higher moral authority to tell the story right. This applies, by the way, to both writers of fiction and nonfiction.

On life's purpose: I don't want to be rich. I want a different world. I don't want the hatefulness of this world. I have a conviction about justice and social responsibility, a concept of citizenship at great variance with what I see in this world.

Paradise: is having an audience.

What the world is: We don't know what the world is until it is shown to us in story.

A story, much condensed (forgive me, Dorothy Allison, for this condensed version). In response to a question I asked about when Allison knew teaching was joyful, she first spoke of how she made sure to make teaching as hard for herself as it was for her students (amen to that, oh yes, amen to that), then told a story about one of the most talented students she ever had—a woman who didn't know where sentences began or ended, but knew vivid and had material. For nine weeks, Allison worked within a workshop and outside the workshop with this "baby" writer. That ninth week, they had a conversation about the writer's future. The student writer had a question: How much would she get paid for the stories she wrote? How much for a collection of stories? How much how much how much would she get paid—and how long would it take? Allison painted a picture of the future, spoke of the rewards that aren't numerical, finally confessed, when pushed, that her own most recent collection of words had received an advance of $12,500. "I earn that in tips a month," said this student writer. And that, pretty much, was it. The end of this genius writer's aspirations.

And so, Allison reminded us, one has to have more than a gift. One has to have desire. One has to cherish the audience, the chance to speak, the conversation—for that, in the end, is what matters most, that is the gifted writer's only sure provenance, that is where responsibility begins.

Let's get less caught up in the noise about books and more invested in making extremely fine ones.

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2. Southern Sin: Review and Giveaway

Anthologies are always a treat, introducing us to dozens of authors thoughts on one theme. And what theme could be more multi-faceted than sin, specifically southern sin? Dorothy Allison gives you a peek at what Southern Sin has to offer in her introduction. "Sin dances words across the page, telling all those lies that sound like truths, and disguising terrible truths in a language we want desperately to believe."

Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly

Editors: Lee Gutkind and Beth Ann Fennelly

Paperback: 350 pages

Publisher: In Fact Books (March 18, 2014)

ISBN-10: 1937163105

ISBN-13: 978-1937163105


In the steamy South, temptation is as wild and plentiful as kudzu.

Whether the sin in question is skinny-dipping or becoming an unlikely porn star, running rum or renting out a room to a pair of exhibitionistic adulterers, in these true stories women defy tradition and forge their own paths through life—often learning unexpected lessons from the experience.

As Dorothy Allison writes in her introduction, “The most dangerous stories are the true ones, the ones we hesitate to tell, the adventures laden with fear or shame or the relentless pull of regret. Some of those are about things that we are secretly deeply proud to have done.”

A diverse array of contributors—mothers, daughters, sisters, best friends, fiancées, divorcees, professors, poets, lifeguards-in-training, lapsed Baptists, tipsy debutantes, middle-aged lesbians—lend their voices to this collection. Introspective and abashed, joyous and triumphant (but almost never apologetic), they remind us that sin, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.


Let me be upfront and tell you that I am a tried and true Yankee. My experience with southern sin is limited to several readings of Gone with the Wind and a college boyfriend who hailed from the great state of Georgia. So let me just say, "Goodness gracious." The heat and humidity must do something to these people!

True, there are several hot and heavy essays on sin of the sexual nature but don't assume this is an anthology of erotica. The surprising part of this anthology is that explores so many other facets of sin. Gluttony, envy, coveting your neighbor's husband. Sin in past centuries, just considering the possibility of sin, the joy of sin, catching a glimpse of another's sin.

Southern Sin contains twenty-three essays that run the gamut of less than virtuous behavior. You'll find yourself rushing through the pages, wondering what's next. But aside from giving you a bit of vicarious thrill at witnessing all this misbehaving, Southern Sin will make you think. What is sin? Is there a universal definition? Is sin different for each person? Considering sin and doing sin...where is the line? Is it a sin to make people feel guilty for the joy they find in life? It's a fascinating subject to consider.

Where to Find More Southern Sin:



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Jodi Webb is still toiling away at her writing in between a full-time job, a full-time family and work as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. Right now she's looking for blogs to promote Sue William Silverman's memoir The Pat Boone Fan Club and Barbara Barth's debut novel The Danger with Words. You can contact her at [email protected]. For Jodi's take on reading and writing (no 'rithmetic please!) stop by her blog Words by Webb.

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3. Longreads recommendations, and recent mentions

Mark Armstrong of Longreads posts his top essays and articles over at Mother Jones each week, and this time around I’m his “Featured Longreader.” Here’s some of what I’ve been reading recently:

A Disney trip with kids meets lots of furtive weed smoking in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Rough Guide to Disney World. “It was a double hallucination,” he says. “You were hallucinating inside of Walter Disney’s hallucination. That’s what he wanted.” Already an official #longreads pick, I know, but: it’s so, so good and only gets better as it goes.

I’ve also been revisiting Eudora Welty’s fiction in preparation for a Granta event [held at the New School last night]. “Why I Live at the P.O.” and “Petrified Man” are two of her most beloved stories, and with good reason: they’re funny and relentless and so accurately and minutely observed. Returning to them, I realized what an influence she must have had on Dorothy Allison (whose Bastard Out of Carolina, a #longlongread, I also recommend). Then I confirmed it. “I was seduced by Eudora Welty,” Allison wrote in 2005, though “I had every reason to distrust her, as I had distrusted Faulkner—both of them products of the middle-class South I disdained.”

To round out this unexpectedly southern round-up, for anyone who missed it last week, I recommend my friend Anna Holmes’ essay on the female Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights movement. One, a factory worker and mother of two traveling after a miscarriage, refused to give up her seat to a white couple and kicked a deputy in the groin when he tried to make her.

I spend so little time around here these days, I forgot to mention my inclusion in Paper Magazine’s Lit It Crowd. I love the photo; all my companions — Thessaly LaForce, Sadie Stein, Emma Straub, and Hamish Robertson — look dead sexy (which they are), while I’m off to the side, hands folded, gazing skyward and seemingly clucking like a delighted schoolmarm/auntie.

It’s a group, Lorin Stein said, “lousy with Parisians”: Thessaly and Sadie are editors and writers at The Paris Review Daily, and Emma and I are contributors. News of Thessaly’s upcoming departure for the Iowa Writers Workshop and that The New Yorker’s Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn will be taking over prompted The New York Observer’s Kat Stoeffel to note the Paper feature, in “Les Filles du Blog,” and to observe that “Although many intellectual and literary magazines have come under scrutiny lately for a lack of female bylines,&rd

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