Archives For Larry Brown

…there you were, insecure and filled with longing as I was for the same reason, willing to forego comfort, to risk failure and absurdity, to do the preposterous thing that no one really wanted us to do…

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Dear Larry,

I’m calling you Larry because you’re dead–how could you mind? I’d intended to write you while you lived, but then you went and died, too soon, at the age of 53, surprising us all I’m guessing. I first learned about your work when I was living in Maryland, a few years before I decided to attend graduate school for creative writing. The Washington Post ran an article about you and your most recent book, On Fire. I was attracted to the book and your story, probably the way many people are attracted to the lives and stories that can never be theirs. As a child, I had fantasized about doing boy things–playing baseball, fighting fires, flying planes–but I was not the kind of girl to push her way into worlds where she wasn’t welcome (let’s leave aside the issue of skill and potential for success). I was timid but sassy enough to be grumpy about all the places I couldn’t go.

GetFileAttachmentAnyway, I bought your book for my firefighter brother, but I read it before I gave it to him. I fell in love with your voice, your wry humor, the way you sounded so settled and comfortable in your own skin; you had nothing to prove. I don’t know if that’s how you were in life, but that’s how you sounded on the page.

Then I fell in love with your beautiful stories in Big Bad Love. The voice again (“My dog died,” the dry humor, the spot-on drunk and heavily accented Mississippi dialogue (“‘Vemma. You know Vemma?’ “Velma? Velma White?’…’Vemma’s gossum good pussy'”). The desire plaguing your characters transcended gender. Leon Barlow, the aspiring writer of “92 Days,” kept on, even though he’d lost his family, his job, and his money. I could be Leon Barlow–you were Leon Barlow, before you became Larry Brown, author, some time after Larry Brown, United States Marine and Larry Brown, Oxford, Mississippi firefighter. A space and persona we both could inhabit: there you were, insecure and filled with longing as I was for the same reason, willing to forego comfort, to risk failure and absurdity, to do the preposterous thing that no one really wanted us to do; the world doesn’t beg would-be writers to write in the same way it encourages students into accountancy, nursing, teaching. You might have been a more unlikely writer than I, but you came from that magic town of storied storytellers, and surely no one could be very surprised to find you enchanted.

Shortly after your death, my husband and I had a minor car accident in Cumberland, Maryland. We weren’t hurt, but our car was. Without phones or cash, we banged on the door of the Moose Lodge (now defunct, replaced by a carpet warehouse). Inside, the bar manager, Budroe, let us use his phone (wallpaper: Golden Retriever) and gave us beers. The story I set in Cumberland features a dead character named Larry and a narrator trying to cope with his demise. They’d been having an affair. At the end, she’s left holding a crock of baked beans, shut out of the community, understanding that she needs to move on. She’s been stalled, you see, occupying space that didn’t belong to her. The fantasies, so vivid! Other people’s jobs, lives, spouses, writing prompts. I still adore your prose, and I embarrass myself by reading aloud to my students the drunk dialogue in “92 Days,” except I’m so besotted with your words that truly I feel no shame. Thank you for the joy, and thank you for being one of my literary fathers. I would never admit that last bit, if you were still living, pride being what it is.

Yours,

Margaret Luongo

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[This is the third post in the new Letters to Dead Authors series.]

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Margaret Luongo

Margaret Luongo is a short story writer who teaches creative writing and contemporary fiction at Miami of Ohio. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The Cincinnati Review, Granta.com, The Pushcart Prize anthology and elsewhere. She is the author of two story collections, If the Heart is Lean (2008) and History of Art (2016), both published by LSU Press. A discussion of her new collection can be found here.

Larry Brown (1951-2004) is a writer from Oxford, Mississippi, who wrote two story collections, six novels, and two books of nonfiction. His sixth novel, A Miracle of Catfish, was published, unfinished, after his death. Before becoming a writer, Brown failed a high school english course, served two years in the Marine Corps and seventeen years as a firefighter in the Oxford City fire department. His obituary can be found here.

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I have no degrees in creative writing, journalism, literature.
It’s all been on-the-job training.

J Tinney Pic 1

Jason Tinney is an award-winning fiction writer, musician, freelance journalist, and actor. His previous books are Louise Paris and Other Waltzes (poetry/prose) and Bluebird (short stories and poems). Three of his short stories were published in the anthology Out of Tune. Tinney and artist Brian Slagle have collaborated on The Swinging Bridge, a traveling literary and visual arts project, since 2004. He performs with, and is the co-founder of, the award-winning music groups, Donegal X-Press (DXP) and The Wayfarers. As an actor, Jason Tinney has appeared in more then thirty stage productions. He has been a contributor to several magazines, among them, Baltimore, Style, Gorilla, Her Mind, Urbanite, and Maryland Life , which won the International Regional Magazine Association’s Award of Merit in the category of Culture Feature for Tinney’s article “The March,” a first-hand account of life on the front-lines with American Civil War reenactors. Ripple Meets the Deep, a new collection of short fiction, was published in October 2014 by CityLit Press, an imprint of the CityLit Project.

Ripple-Cover-OnlyRead More By and About Jason:

Story excerpt: Ripple Meets the Deep

Story excerpt: Shave ’em Dry

Story Excerpt: January

Interview: Baltimore Review Coffee & Questions

How Jason Tinney Became a Writer:

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Jason for saying yes!

 

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

Honestly, there came a point where I didn’t know what else to do. I had been acting and studying theatre in college; I joined a band and, of course, worked other jobs to pay the rent. But I was also writing—all the time. I just made a decision that this was where I needed to focus. The solitary nature of the work, that’s a place I felt comfortable and I didn’t have to depend on anyone else to do it.

Looking back, it may have been as simple as a need, or drive—not in a confessional way—to express something I couldn’t say verbally. So, I do buy into what Samuel Beckett said: “…you don’t do it in order to get published. You do it in order to breathe.”

2. How did you go about becoming a writer?

I have no degrees in creative writing, journalism, literature. It’s all been on-the-job training. First, I organized. I had poems, short prose and stories, pages of dialogue. I reshaped and rewrote that material and jumped into new pieces with a clear intent. I researched—did my homework—attended literary events and networked.

I got lucky. In 2001, a small press, Hilliard and Harris, took an interest in the work and published my first collection of poetry and prose, Louise Paris and Other Waltzes, followed by a collection of poems and short stories, Bluebird, in 2003. I began pitching non-fiction stories to magazines; one assignment turned into another. I feel very fortunate.

3. Who helped you along the way, and how?

There are a few folks, who early on, I owe a great debt of gratitude: Rafael Alvarez, a fiction and television writer, and long-time journalist for the Baltimore Sun; writer/editor, Angela Davids, who gave my name to Elizabeth Evitts-Dickinson. At the time, Elizabeth was the editor of a Baltimore magazine, Urbanite, and offered me one of my first assignments. Dan Patrell, publisher and editor of Maryland Life magazine, and articles editor, Holly Smith—they took a chance on a freelance writer who had no experience; Dave Sheinin, a writer for the Washington Post—we met through music connections; and Gregg Wilhelm, director of the CityLit Project/CityLit Press.

All of the people I mentioned are extraordinary at their craft… they were very generous and patient with their time and took me under their wings. They were honest with their experiences, evaluated pieces I had written, and called out all the B.S. I put down on paper. I credit them for helping me learn to write.

More importantly, I’m honored, and blessed, to call them dear friends.

Larry Brown, courtesy NYTimes, “The One That Got Away”

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

Larry Brown, who passed away in 2004. He was an Oxford, Mississippi firefighter who decided he wanted to write. He didn’t have any formal training—just did it, and it took him awhile, but, before his death, he created these amazing collections of stories and novels—Facing the Music and Joe, among them—that are raw and honest, brutal and beautiful. When I read these books and learned his own personal story, it felt like I had been given a driver’s license.

5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Plunge in. Be confident. No one else will own your voice.