restricted access Interview with a Master: Dorothy Allison
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154 Interview with a Master: Dorothy Allison Kendra Tuthill/2009 Our Stories Literary Journal 2009. Reprinted by Permission of Kendra Tuthill, Managing Editor , Our Stories Dorothy Allison, writer-rock star, cult icon, loves music. She listens as she writes, something I might’ve guessed if I’d had the second to think about it, reading breathily through the crescendo of Bastard Out of Carolina and calming down, enveloped and sweaty-palmed inside the denouement. Closing the book, I heard Bone’s Southern cadence bumping like a dance up my spine. I wanted to have a mama instead of a mother. I wanted to peer out through hard black eyes. It’s not that I really wanted to be Bone, of course, but just as music stitches itself to the air, Bone is nailed to this life and fitted to her body in a way that I can’t say is true for my friends or me. In Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison designed and populated the set with her focused attention and a practiced imagination that resulted in a fiction that seems truer than reality. Despite Bone’s twisted hardships, it would just be so great to be such a real person (who is made out of fiction). When reviewers say her characters are real, they don’t mean they’re based on real people from Allison’s childhood (though that may be true). They also don’t have to mean that Allison writes dynamic characters (although that is most certainly true). Her characters in Bastard Out of Carolina, Cavedwellers, and her short stories are alive. They drive, smoke and get drunk, dance, steal and punch, lie, fuck and get carried away by God and music and the melodies of their own profound, spontaneous wisdoms. And when you finish an Allison piece, you don’t want them to go away yet. KENDRA TUTHILL / 2009 155 Dorothy Allison is the sort of writer you tell your friends about. You’re glad to have her books on your shelf. Bastard Out of Carolina is one of those novels like 1984 (only not at all), that explores and justifies a system of thought so tangled it can only be sensed abstractly or understood by reading this book. When you understand Bone’s mean masturbation and her mama and Daddy Glen’s disturbed relationship, (the white-trash problems we’re taught to dismiss as preventable accidents), you pass on the book saying, “It’s like Bastard Out of Carolina. Just read it.” In the following interview, Dorothy Allison elaborates on her life and writing. We learn of the story-telling habits of her childhood, about the importance and difficulty of balancing the work of writing with the teaching of writing, about the music that moves her, and the constant, almost finished state of her current novel. OS: You are known for being a lifelong storyteller, like Bone. Could you share a story with us that you told as a child? DA: I had two younger sisters and more cousins than seems reasonable. My mama often left us with our aunt Dot who had seven children, two sets of twins, and very often any number of other cousins who would be staying with her. I wound up as the babysitter/storyteller because the oldest cousins would take off and there I would be with the youngest trying to keep them from being too wild. I retold stories a lot—things I had read or seen, quite a few horror movies—things I had seen on creature features—vampires, werewolves and witches who ate body parts (yum, yum). I found that scaring the cousins was the best way to keep them distracted. Monsters always worked. Still do I think—though we have different notions of monsters these days. I did get in trouble for my stories—though I think some of that was due to the cousins retelling the really nasty parts and adding more detail. But then when I was around eleven, I made up my version of a scary car wreck story—telling all about the legendary imaginary cousin who walked home after going through the windshield of his daddy’s truck. He of course did not realize he was dying, holding onto his bloody neck as he walked, making it all the way up the front steps to the porch before collapsing, letting go of his grip on his neck and the head rolling forward into the doorway to turn...


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