IF YOU GO
What: Celebration of Southern Literature.
When: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.
Admission: $30-$100, registration is required and one-day tickets are available.
Note: Each day consists of a variety of events, including book signings, readings and panel discussions. Visit southernlitalliance.org for the full schedule.
Jamie Quatro's online biography includes a story of a seemingly "magical" turn of events and chance meetings leading up to her signing with Grove Press, publishers of her first book, "I Want to Show You More," a collection of short stories.
Whether it's magic or talent or a combination of both, Quatro, who lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband and children, continues to lead a seemingly charmed life for a new writer. In recent weeks, The New Yorker, The New York Times and The New York Times Book Review have all run glowing reviews of the book.
"Jamie Quatro's 'I Want to Show You More' is an obsessive first collection that feels like a fifth or sixth," J. Robert Lennon wrote in the Times Book Review. "It is a dogged, brutally thoughtful piece of work, and gives us a writer of great originality and apparent artistic maturity who seems to have come out of nowhere.
"Though Quatro is gifted at conventional psychological realism, she is strongest here when she ventures into the fantastic. Her flights of fancy are never ostentatious or arbitrary; instead they grow naturally out of the emotional and psychological states of her characters."
Quatro will be among the writers featured at the Celebration of Southern Literature, which takes place Thursday through Saturday at the Tivoli Theatre. She represents what the event is all about — "recognizing up-and-coming new voices," according to Southern Lit Alliance Executive Director Susan Robinson.
Since the book's release about a month ago, Quatro has been busy doing book tours around the country, but she agreed to do an interview via email.
Q: Congratulations on the book and wonderful reviews, especially the big piece in the New York Times Book Review section. What has that review done for your career?
A: It's probably too soon to talk about my "career," at least in a long-term sense. It's my first book, and it's only been out for a month. Time will tell. In the short run, though, I think the "triple hit" of big reviews -- James Wood in the New Yorker, Dwight Garner in the NYT, and then J. Robert Lennon in NYTBR -- brought a good amount of national attention to the collection. I'm so grateful.
I'm also thrilled by the current excitement about the literary short story -- the only uniquely American literary form — though I'm opposed to the idea that it's because attention spans have shortened due to the Internet. I think stories demand a heightened intensity of focus, and that collections are actually more difficult to read than novels (you are, in effect, starting anew with each piece). If the Internet has anything to do with the resurgence of interest in the form, it might be that we've become more emotionally detached from one another, and from the physical world itself — online, we're everywhere and nowhere, "friends" with everyone and no one. Maybe we're simply hungry, again, for the deep emotional resonance and connectivity that the story can deliver in a single sitting. Poetry does this, too, perhaps to greatest effect. I prefer to read poetry above all other literary forms. We must have poetry. The day we stop reading poetry — the day our nation ceases to support poets — that's the day we begin to die, individually, collectively.
Q: You are doing quite a few public appearances. Have you had time to process it all?
A: When I'm home I try not to "process" too much. After being on the road, it's such a pleasure, even for a day or two between events, to do the normal things: Make pancakes for the kids, sweep the floors, walk the dog, go to yoga. And there's a sense in which you can't process anything until you're looking back on it.
One of my favorite Amy Hempel stories, "Offertory," probes this notion — the female narrator gives her lover cabbage roses. The lover doesn't really look at them until they begin to decay: "He could not wait to get rid of them so he could enjoy remembering them." That's a bit how a book tour is. It's like a wedding: while it's happening, it's very difficult to feel much of anything, or to realize you're enjoying yourself, even though everyone keeps saying, "Enjoy it!" But when I'm home, looking back on the last stint, I realize how very much I was enjoying every minute. And how much I'm enjoying remembering the enjoyment. Another paradox.
Q: Have you had time to write and, if so, what are you working on and does the success of this book change in any way future works?
A: Most of what I've been working on has been related to the book's publication -- interviews, lectures, workshops. I'm antsy to get back to fiction. I have about six stories in various stages of draft. I've also been reading a lot during the book tour. Right now I'm in the middle of Stuart Nadler's gorgeous new novel, "Wise Men." And my wonderful film/TV agent, Geoffrey Sanford, just sent me the collected stories of Ivan Bunin, a writer I'd never heard of. Plenty to keep me busy.
Q: You will be participating in the Celebration of Southern Literature. What will you tell new and unpublished writers about being a writer?
A: This is going to sound like a contradiction, given what I said above, but: There is no magic formula. Writing is hard. There are no shortcuts, and no amount of planning or dreaming or "networking" will make you into a writer.
(Author) Barry Hannah said: "I don't advocate anything to the young writer except the loneliness with a pencil and a white sheet of paper." Everything that happens, happens in isolation — on the page, sentence by sentence. Many beginning writers want to know how to get published, or how to get an agent, long before they've actually done the real work. They want the "lifestyle."
Here's the truth: The lifestyle is lonely and has very little to do with things like editors and agents and conferences. Writers write. It's isolated and terrifying and every day, when you sit down in the chair, a thousand forces will do their best to pluck what little vision you have from you. If you want to be a writer, forget about publication. Get alone, get quiet. Read the greats: Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Faulkner. Read as much poetry as you can. Tune your ear, find the place where your soul feasts on the music. Then write a sentence. And then another.
Q: Can you give a little bit more about your background, particularly about living in Chattanooga
A: My husband, children and I live in Fairyland, on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain. We moved here seven years ago and absolutely love it. We've lived all over, during undergrad and grad school — Virginia, New Jersey, Arizona, California, Kansas, Iowa — but Chattanooga is by far our favorite city. We love the history here, and the weather, the arts community, the emphasis on the outdoors, the eclectic mix of people. God willing, this is where we'll stay put.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...