For the Kimbilio panel at AWP ’16, Cole Lavalais (’13, ’15) presented these remarks on directionality in fiction:
Several years ago during my first semester in graduate school, some of my classmates and I went out to a local watering hole after a rather tedious writing workshop. Which, by the way, was nothing new. I found my graduate writing workshops consistently difficult, not because I couldn’t take critique, but the focus of the workshop, at least my workshops, weren’t craft. Instead the professor and workshop participants’ critiques would often devolve into cultural anthropological digs, peppered with questions about the organizations and events taking place on the fictional black college campus where my novel was set. So while my classmates communed at the bar and I whined into my beer about my growing black-splaining fatigue, one of my white classmates countered, “Well, who is your audience?” Due to her tone and body language, I could tell it wasn’t a question she expected an answer to. On the contrary, it was one of those questions meant to shut me down or shut me up. Of course, being who I am and where I’m from, I’m not easily shut up, so I countered back with just as much pointedness: “People who read books are my audience.”
Read the rest of the article here: Writing Woke
Cole Lavalais’s arresting debut novel, The Summer of the Cicadas, engages with a mother-daughter relationship, mental health, and first love, set on the campus of small black college in the South. The novel’s main character Viola (Vi) Moon is still emotionally fragile after a recent hospitalization at a mental health facility, but she’s also determined to step into her future. As she begins her freshman year in college, she gets involved with Perry, the only son of an elite black family. Then a family mystery further threatens Vi’s stability and leads her on a search for her father. From the devastating opening chapter to the final, revelatory pages, Summer of the Cicadas is a fresh, unforgettable story about the struggle to heal from wounds of the past.
Lavalais is a fellow of the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction, VONA/Voices, and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops. She has been awarded writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts. Her short stories have appeared in publications including Obsidian, Apogee, WarpLand, Tidal Basin Review, and Aquarius Press. She holds an MFA from Chicago State University and a PhD from University of Illinois at Chicago. She has taught writing for over ten years. On the South Side of Chicago, Lavalais teaches a community-based writing workshop and hosts Colored People’s Time, a bi-monthly literary salon featuring fiction writers of color.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cole Lavalais about Summer of the Cicada, why she’s a huge fan of outlining, and the importance of dedicated communities for black writers.
Read the interview here: Deesha Interviews Cole
By Dennis Norris II
Long before it actually happened, I tried to tell the world that I was a figure skater. I tried on Saturday afternoons, back in the nineties when skating was on TV every weekend. I tried by pushing all the furniture to the edges of the living room. I tried by learning the proper technique for every jump and its takeoff years before I took my first skating lesson. And I tried by idolizing Michelle Kwan, by taping every performance on VHS, by learning all her choreography. I paid close attention to every opening pose, and assumed them when she did, matching my breath with hers, my movements with hers. I was a boy in those years, pre-pubescent, still under five feet tall. I knew little of the world, other than the fact that I loved watching figure skating. It enchanted me, captivated my attention for hours at a time. But for many years, for me, I thought skating was for watching, not doing.
I didn’t become a real figure skater until I was fourteen, which in skating, is geriatric. I had just started high school at University School (US), an elite, all-male college preparatory school. Though there were no formal gym classes, there was the expectation that every boy participate in some kind of sport, school sponsored or otherwise. I had never shown any real athletic talent in anything, but had obsessively followed figure skating ever since my baby-sitter exposed me to the sport in the early nineties. My earliest memory of fandom was in 1994, during the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Olympic controversy, though I know my enthusiasm came about years prior. So by the time the 1998 Winter Olympics rolled around, I’d been “figure skating” around the living room for years. I had plenty of dress socks—the best kind for slipping and sliding on a hardwood floor, pretending to jump and spin and fall. In middle school gym class, my favorite days were free days—I didn’t have to be bothered with kickball or basketball or running track. I was happy to be left alone pretending I was Michelle Kwan—that it was me moving across the ice telling stories with my body, presenting every detail flawlessly, from the top of my head all the way through my fingertips, to the point in my toes. I was Salome, I was Desdemona’s Dream; it was really my love story that built the Taj Mahal.
Read the rest of Dennis’ essay here: Finding Michelle Kwan
From the Evanston Public Library Blog:
Amina Gautier writes short stories, and her short story collections win awards. It’s about that simple. Back in 2011, for instance, her debut collectionAt-Risk earned the Flannery O’Connor Award and the First Horizon Award among other honors, and her 2014 follow-upNow We Will Be Happy won the Praire Schooner Book Prize. This past February Gautier continued the trend with The Loss of All Lost Things – a gripping collection of fifteen stories that explores the unpredictable ways in which characters deal with the loss of their loved ones, careers, reputations, and hometowns. Not only did her third collection win the Elixir Press Award in Fiction, but Gautier was also included on Newcity’s 2016 Lit 50 list and is set to receive the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award in October. Back on May 9, Gautier visited EPL to read fromThe Loss of All Lost Things as part of the 2016 Evanston Literary Festival, but if you missed her that night, have no fear. You can catch her this Saturday, June 11 at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, and what’s more, we recently spoke with her via email about her love of the short story form, her creative process, and the challenges of writing intimately about loss.
Read the interview here: An Interview with Amina Gautier
You walk into the coffeehouse and pick a seat beside the thin woman whose beauty is coiled into tight vines of hair. Never seen her here before, you think as you slide into the bench beside her, careful not to get caught looking in her direction.
You take off your coat, power up your laptop, check your cell phone for messages. You coyly lay your trap.
Read the rest of this “flash fiction” here: Sex Coffee
In Cole Lavalais’ debut novel Summer of the Cicadas, Viola “Vi” Moon hopes to leave her experience at a mental health facility behind when she enrolls in a small black college in the south, but the stability she hoped she’d gain fractures more quickly than she anticipated. Vi thinks the best way to regain her sanity is to begin a relationship with Perry, the only son of a black, Southern elite family. When Vi struggles to find her place in school and with Perry, she launches an obsessive search for the father she can’t fully remember or completely forget.
Summer of the Cicadas is a striking debut that challenges the reader to figure out what is real, what is true, and what is now. Lavalais turns the idea of legacy upside when characters are confronted with inheriting family secrets, mental illness, respectability politics, and deception. Who or what haunts us as we try to find ourselves, stuck with family names and histories we didn’t choose? How much of our histories should we hold on to as we prepare for our futures? In a telephone interview, Lavalais talked with me about the stigma of mental illness, diversity issues in publishing, and how black women writers can support each other.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE: Cole Lavalais on THE TOAST