Friday, May 1, 2020

The University of Iowa Press, with the Writing University, has been reaching out to its authors to gain perspective, advice, humor and connection. We want to know how they are doing, first and foremost: we are primarily checking in. But we also want to know how they are living (or surviving, or managing) with the pandemic that surrounds all of us. We are a family here -- the press, the authors, the university -- and this is what families do: we check in.

Today's author conversation came from Anthony Varallo. Anthony Varallo is the author of four short story collections, including This Day in History and The Lines (both from the University of Iowa Press). He is professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he teaches creative writing. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

Varallo wrote UI Press marketing director Allison Means about his daily life during the pandemic:


 1. What book(s) do you recommend for this time of isolation?


I was in the middle of teaching some great books this semester before we switched to online classes, so I’m glad to recommend those.  In my advanced undergraduate fiction workshop we recently read A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley, which is a fantastic short story collection, and The Virginity of Famous Men by Christine Sneed, which is equally wonderful.  I’m teaching a special topics course in coming-of-age literature, where we read a lot a great stuff, but, most recently, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones.

Two books I wish I had written myself: Stoner, by John Williams and Normal People, by Sally Rooney.


2. What are 3 good things that happened today? 

I read some submissions for Crazyhorse.  I went for a run.  I texted my mom.


3. What is your isolation playlist? (Could be a list, screenshot of your spotify playlist or link, etc.)

I usually listen to LPs on my turntable or whole albums on Spotify, since I’m really bad at listening to one thing and then suddenly another, and then suddenly another.  But here are three things I’ve been listening to lately: 

The Replacements: Tim and Let it Be.  I don’t know how I missed out on The Replacements, but I guess I’m making up for lost time now.  Two great albums.

Beethoven: 9 Symphonies, John Eliot Gardiner.  Whether you’ve heard these a million times or wouldn’t listen to these in a million years, these performances are worth giving a try.

Ella Fitzgerald, The Cole Porter Songbook.  This is the album we listen to at dinnertime more than any other album, so much so that my kids affectionately call this “that album we always listen to at dinnertime.”  Such high praise!


4. Could you share an image of your new “coworker(s)” (pets, kids, etc.) or your new "office" (my desk is literally in a closet)?

My home “office” is actually this chair, left over from my grad school days.



4. Do you have a writing prompts you could share to inspire us?

Sure!  I’ve got a million of ‘em, but the one that has consistently produced the best writing is actually really simple: describe a photograph from your family album as vividly as you can, using present tense narration.  If you run out of things to describe, make up a few details, or add dialogue, or go into scene.  (I think this one works because your writing is always a little more powerful when you’re writing about people you really care about.)




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Photo by Galina N on Unsplash