More than a year ago, I entered a short story contest called something like the Southern Gothic Fiction Revival prize. I had no real thought of winning the contest. More than anything, I entered it as a way of donating money to Twisted Road Publishing. Twisted Road puts out excellent books. The two Pat Spears novels are among my favorites. The review I wrote about one of them will pop up on this site eventually.
Anyway, Dorothy Allison was the judge of that contest. She’s an amazing writer. I thought she’d have better taste in fiction than she does. As it turns out, she picked this ridiculous story about Flannery O’Connor, a textbook salesman, and a ukulele as the winner.
As it also turns out, I wrote that story.
On top of winning the contest, my Flannery O’Connor ukulele story was included in a short story anthology that was released in the fall of 2016. Being the master of self promotion that I am, I’m just now getting around to letting the world (or at least my blog and the Facebook page attached to it) know about it.
It’s a pretty kick ass anthology, regardless what you think of my story. I highly recommend it. You can order it and learn more about it here.
Nobody talks much about Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The Artificial Nigger” anymore, which is a shame. I understand why a story with a title like has fallen from favor. It’s a difficult story to recommend. It’s awkward for an English teacher to say to her students, “Read ‘The Artificial Nigger’ for class tomorrow.” O’Connor surely knew when she titled “The Artificial Nigger” that she was taking risks and forcing readers to deal with the specter of racism. She couldn’t have known in 1955 that the title would evolve from confrontational to repulsive, and it would doom the story to obscurity while her lesser works rose to prominence.
The story itself is a brilliant investigation into the fears that create racism and the ways in which racism is learned. It demonstrates subtly and clearly how traditional racism—the belief that races are real biological constructs and that the white race is superior to the black one—is devastating for poor white people. These are ideas that have been relevant for about four hundred years, but our current political climate has made “The Artificial Nigger” particularly significant. Reading the story introduces a pathway to understanding Donald Trump’s supporters that hasn’t really been explored.
Read the rest of this article on Morpheus.
For a few years, I’ve been writing stories about some of my favorite writers and their metaphysical ukuleles. They’re all fiction, but based on true stories. My most recently published one pays homage to Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted and Cowboys Are My Weakness. It has been published in the literary journal Thin Air. They made me the “featured writer” for the issue and posted the complete story to their web site. You can read it here.
Also, I’d like to point out that the journal itself is very cool. The other featured author is poet Jim Simmerman. Jim was a hell of a poet and a guy I always liked to spend time with. I’m honored to share this tiny little spotlight with him. I encourage you to support Thin Air, if you can.
This is the fifth ukulele story I’ve had published in the past year and a half. As far as I know, it’s the only one you can read online. The other four are:
Jack Kerouac’s ukulele in The Rattling Wall.
Raymond Chandler’s ukulele in VLAK.
Flannery O’Connor’s ukulele in 14 Hills.
Herman Melville’s ukulele in Fjords Review.
Fjords lists the Melville story as an “essay.” I assure you it’s not. It is based on a ton of research I did on Melville, but I also made a lot of it up. I haven’t pointed out the mistake to the folks at Fjords because I feel like I suckered someone over there, and I like that feeling.
In case you’re wondering, there are seven more ukulele stories written that I haven’t submitted for publication. I plan to finish revising those, then send the whole thing out as a collection sometime this summer. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my little tribute to Pam Houston.