I climbed up the creaking stairs, 10 minutes late, as Jeffrey Renard Allen read from his story “The Green Apocalypse” from his collection Holding Pattern. I was immediately reminded of how much I enjoy the way he pronounces the word “particularly”: it comes from his mouth like a rubber ball in slow motion, that then bounces gently down the stairs. Jeffrey Renard Allen, who is a professor in the Riggio program, was one of the most intelligent and kind writing teachers I’ve had.
Mr. Allen was one of three men reading from their short story collections. Following Allen was James Matthews who read from Last Known Position. He is a veteran of the Iraq war, having done two tours. Following him was David A. Taylor, author of the collection Success: Stories. After reading, each of the three authors took questions from the small audience of 20 people.
On how he starts writing stories, Jeffrey R. Allen said, “Every story is different.” He went on to describe how when he was once in Chicago, riding the El, he saw an older lady playing a guitar on which there was a picture of a younger boy, assumedly her grandson. The image stayed with him and found its way into the end the story “Bread and the Land.”
“Characters take you to place you didn’t expect,” Allen responded to an additional question on planning stories in advance to actually writing them. “Every story dictates its own terms.”
Someone asked Allen about his poetry, and how he came to it. He said that in school, he had always considered himself a fiction writer until a professor told him that his writing used mostly plain words, which he did not take as the compliment that it was intended. So, he started reading and writing poetry “as a way to better understand how to use the language.”