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166 Interview with Dorothy Allison Rob Neufeld/2009 The Read on WNC. Reprinted by permission of Rob Neufeld, author; producer; book and local history feature writer, Asheville Citizen-Times R: You’re at Davidson now, and you’re coming to WCU (Western Carolina University). You work a lot with young writers? D: Yes. R: Are there things you look for and approaches you take? D: As I talk with people, one of the things that always happens is there will be this big public discussion, and then there will be these kids that hang back, and those are the ones I wait for, the kids that are just too shy or that are too scared or too self-conscious, or feel themselves too embattled, and they’ll hang to the very end, waiting for everybody else to leave. Then they’ll come up—and they’re almost always the same category of kids. Some of them might be gay youth. Some of them are working-class, first-generation school youth, some of these are just some kids who feel like they were born on the wrong planet, which is a lot of baby writers, and those are the kids I wait for. Because they’re the ones that are at great risk, and, frankly, they’re the ones from whom really great stories come. Really great stories. R: You find people with stories to tell. D: Some of the stories are survivor stories. Some of them are outlaw stories —those of us who have never felt loved and safe in the world. For me, that’s a lot of the first-generation kids who go to college when their mother’s a waitress and their daddy’s a truck driver. Those kids step into that environment and for them, books aren’t distractions. They’re not something they go to out of boredom. Books are where they go to figure out how to stay alive, to figure out the meaning of life, to think “Why?” And that’s what I really love. ROB NEUFELD / 2009 167 R: You get to see what the other people’s worlds are. D: When I teach, I push the young writers that I work with to go and listen to other people tell stories, to read other stories, because what happens is, if someone else tells a story, it evokes from you a story. That’s culture. That’s how we learn about the world, trading those memories, those imaginations. We used to do it across the campfire. Now we do it sometimes across the kitchen table. And writers, we do it on print on the page. But if you’re only talking to yourself, you get bored with yourself real fast. What you want is the contrast of other people’s memories, other people’s imaginations. R: You found stories very early, didn’t you? D: I lived in a house where the primary books were Mickey Spillane and the Bible. Talk about a huge contrast! R: There you go! D: It just gives you a real appreciation for language. You either cuss good or pray fervently . . . My mama loved Ross Macdonald. I must say it’s a style that seems much better than Spillane. He was of The Dreadful Lemon Sky and all those wonderful adverbs and adjectives. R: He had the color in every one of his novel titles. D: Yes. Mickey Spillane—he didn’t stop to look at the color. He just shot people. R: How did you first know to trade in a Spillane for a Flannery O’Connor, as you did? D: I don’t know about other people, but really simple stories I find really boring. They don’t match my view of the world. My view of the world is pretty complicated, and Flannery O’Connor, she saw the world the way I see the world now. She sees people hurt and desperate and astonishing, and occasionally a little scary. R: Who or what clued you into her? Was it the book cover, the title, her name, somebody you knew— D: No, the truth is, I was getting books mostly without covers because then you get them really cheap. In a resale store. So I didn’t have the covers. But I’ve got to say, I read a lot of—I hate to use the word—“crap” before I got to some good stuff, and it shapes what stays with you because I...


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