A quirky and clever writer, known as “the it girl of flash fiction,” will bring her humor and experimental prose to the University of Houston-Victoria on Oct. 21 as the next guest in the UHV/American Book Review Fall Reading Series.
Amelia Gray comes to Victoria to promote her book “Museum of the Weird,” published in September by UHV’s own Fiction Collective Two. Her talk will begin at noon in the Alcorn Auditorium of UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.
“I think there’s a lot of room for play and experimental writing,” Gray said. “It doesn’t always have to be really serious.”
Gray’s writing, brief and unpredictable, has made her fans among the flash fiction crowd. Her stories parallel her interest in the oddball, some of which she posts on her blog, www.ameliagray.com. Her first book “AM/PM” drew reviews that ranged from “screwy, prickly and pleasantly surprising” to “… a do-it-yourself kit to protect imagination.”
“Everything is interesting,” Gray said of her ability to capture the unique aspects of the seemingly mundane.
In her story “Thoughts While Strolling,” she vamps on headlines from a small-town newspaper. “Oscar Chapin growing a ninety-pound watermelon” brings her musings on the farmer, but they take a left turn when she writes of him using an eyedropper to strategically water the plant in different places.
She writes of snake farms, an armadillo in a bar and a tenant’s complaints to her landlord, pointing out queer and whimsical details throughout in a serious way.
And Gray says she is the perfect fit for FC2, an alternative press with offices based at UHV.
“I like that about FC2, that it publishes experimental writing,” Gray said. “You know something published by FC2 is going to get a lot of really well-read eyes on the manuscript and that it is going to be something new and different.”
Gray won the FC2-sponsored American Book Review Ronald Sukenik Prize for Innovative Fiction. Her first-place prize included publishing a book.
Like any writer, Gray has her inspirations, among them free-thinking intellectual David Foster Wallace, avant-garde poet Samuel Beckett and influential German writer Franz Kafka.
“I think that every generation has its own definition of ‘experimentation,’” she said. “Everyone looks at the generation before and adds his or her own tastes and context.”
She says this wired era is “a strange time to be writing,” meaning it in both positive and negative ways.
“Everything now is so Internet dominated, and we’re all plugged in with Twitter and everything,” she said.
“But there’s also such a community online, and there is such easy access for people to see what’s going on,” she said. “What that breeds is an experimental culture, which makes it easier to springboard off of things.”
She said her writing is helped by her freelance job of writing advertising copy. “It’s definitely not like anything I use in my fiction,” she said. “But I like it because that kind of work aids my own stories and makes me think about writing efficiently.”
Thomas Williams, UHV School of Arts & Sciences humanities division chair, said Gray’s work will appeal to anyone interested in stories that surprise, upset and delight.
“She’s a rare talent because she creates a world of her own,” Williams said. “She’s a real player in establishing a new way for writers to promote, share and, above all, write fiction.”
Her writing has appeared in numerous alternative and online publications. She has been touring behind the release of “Museum of the Weird” up the West Coast, and through the Midwest. She plans readings in New York later this month.
In her “everything is interesting” credo, she includes her namesake, Amelia Grey, a romance novelist based in Florida with bleach blonde hair and a large following among the swooning set.
“I get calls from people who think I am her,” Gray said as she laughed. “I actually have come to know a lot about her.”
Other writers scheduled for the Fall Reading Series are:
Ann Weisgarber, Nov. 4 - Weisgarber has been fascinated by the gritty spirit of pioneer homesteaders ever since her first childhood trip to the American West. She earned a master’s degree in sociology at UH and taught high school and then sociology at a junior college. Inspired by a cookstove in a South Dakota sod dugout and a photograph of an unnamed woman, she spent seven years writing “The Personal History of Rachel DuPree.” Weisgarber splits her time between Sugar Land and Galveston. She is working on her next novel, a story about the 1900 Galveston hurricane.
E. Ethelbert Miller, Dec. 2 - Miller, a literary activist, is the board chairman of the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a board member of The Writer’s Center and is editor of Poet Lore magazine. Since 1974, he has been the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University in Washington, D.C. His novel, “In Search of Color Everywhere,” was awarded the 1994 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and was a Book of the Month Club selection. Mr. Miller received the 1995 O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize. In 2004, Miller received a prestigious Fulbright award to visit Israel.
ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal that is published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2007 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.
For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call ABR Managing Editor Charles Alcorn at 361-570-4100 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.