9.17.06: Karen Russell and Rachel Sherman
9.17.06: This week's fiction night featured readings from Karen Russell and Rachel Sherman. The two NYC short-story debutants are both grads of Columbia's MFA program, and both have a slew of lit mag credits notched into their belts (Granta, McSweeney's, Post Road, n+1 and Conjunctions, to name a few). Sherman read a selection from, The First Hurt, which has been short-listed for the Frank O-Connor Short Story Book Award. Russell, a freshy 24-year-old, was the 2005 recipient of the Transatlantic Review/Henfield Foundation Award, in addition to making the list of New York magazine's top twenty-five people to watch under the age of twenty-five. She shared the title story from her collection, St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves.
After the readings, KGB's Anne Pelletier, sat down with the authors to chat about their influences and ideas, their personal projects, the cruelty of separation, and fairy tales with endings that haunt. -- Catherine Foulkrod, Editor at Large.
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Anne Pelletier: I'm curious about your influences. There seems to be a fairy-tale quality in your stories, yet also a modern sensibility. Do you read Kelly Link?
Karen Russell: Yes, Kelly Link and George Saunders are two contemporary writers that have really affected me. I guess Flannery O'Connor is an influence, and I want to say Kafka, but will I sound like an asshole? I'll say Kafka and Choose Your Own Adventure.
I spent a lot of time in my own world when I was small, reading, and I did read fairy tales. But I got really excited when I read the real versions of the fairy tales, because I thought, "these don't have happy endings." I loved to read the kind of stuff that was almost too painful to go on reading, but too painful to stop. I loved that kind of tension.
AP: In the story you read tonight, which is the title story from your collection, the reader can find many messages - about animal welfare, about the way our society treats girls, about the role of religion in "taming" our instincts, yet we never feel we are being lectured to.
KR: Oh, good, because I never set out to communicate a message. I start out from more of a doofus-ey "what if" place. I think this story turned out to be about things that interest me: the tyranny of etiquette, the loss of both our innocence and our wildness as we are made civilized, the way girls are encouraged to "make nice" and smile away their problems. We lose access to our emotions and our real experience of things. I feel this furious sense of loss, and when I wrote this story, I kind of found out how I felt about that.
AP: What's next for you? What are you excited about?
KR: Well, I'm working on a story, and I have a novel, Swamplandia! that Knopf is doing. It's based on a story from this collection. It's about the Bigtree Wrestling Dynasty, a family that wrestled alligators in the Florida Everglades. You know, I've never done a novel, it's like spelunking-you just go deeper and deeper.
"After reading at KGB, I thought TRRRRRAWWWW! Wow, now I can die! Reading at the KGB was the pinnacle." - Karen Russell
"The wolf sounds were tantalizing. I heard the call of the wild." - Elyssa East
"Karen Russell is kind of my hero." - Reif Larsen
"It's really inspiring to come to a great venue where brilliant authors can share their work and have a good time. "- Alison
Anne Pelletier: Your collection is titled The First Hurt. What is the first hurt?
Rachel Sherman: Birth, I guess. It exposes you to all the ills of the world. But also, separations. I'm especially interested in mother/daughter separations, pulling a child away from its parents, those kinds of things.
AP: You deal with those ideas in the story you read tonight, "Keeping Time," about the goings-on at a summer camp. Certainly, camp is a separation.
RS: Camp is the cruelest thing you can do a child! You take the child away from the parents. I hated camp when I was young, but then, as I was older, I liked it more. I guess this story, for me, is an amalgamation of all the themes in my book, and that's why I chose to read it. I do deal with separation and also with the idea of mentor/mentee, which I'm passionately interested in.
AP: Have you ever been a camp counselor or a teacher or another kind of mentor to young girls?
RS: No, but I am in my own mind. I'm interested in the relationship from both sides, from the point of view of both the mentor and the mentee, and in my mind, I save a lot of girls.
-- Anne Pelletier, KGB Intern
Final Words! from Rachel Sherman:
"I really had a nice time! It was great to read with Karen because though they are from different worlds, our stories are very complimentary. I like reading at KGB because there's always a great audience and the environment is inspiring." - Rachel Sherman