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Author cultivates creativity to create monsters

Shelley Jackson doesn’t think of creativity as something she found as much as something that never left.

Shelley Jackson

“Every kid, I think, is an explosion of invention,” Jackson said. “But most of them eventually put a lid on it, or someone else does it for them. I just never stopped.”

Jackson is the final author in the fall University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series. She will read from her latest novel, “Riddance,” at 11 a.m. Friday in the UHV University North Walker Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event was moved to Friday from the usual Thursday because of a scheduling conflict, and it is free and open to the public.

“Shelley Jackson’s work brings unusual and sometimes dark narratives into stark relief,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, ABR editor and publisher, and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “Each story has its own structure created specifically to match its narrative. Her presentation will be an intriguing glimpse into a world where the weird is front and center.”

Jeffrey Di Leo

Jackson likens her inspiration and creative process to creating monsters. A story often will emerge first with an image or idea that can’t rationally be accounted for or a creepy feeling.

“The story is a sort of petri dish in which I cultivate that germ and allow it to take a more definite form, while still preserving its essential mystery,” she said. “I’m making monsters, you might say, and setting them free.”

One of Jackson’s more inventive works is “The Skin Project.” The project emerged from a collection of short stories Jackson was writing for her first book, “The Melancholy of Anatomy.” Each of the stories focused on and reimagined a different part of the body or a bodily substance, and one of the stories was titled “Skin.” While she was working on “Skin,” Jackson saw a documentary about the Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates art in natural and urban settings using elements from each site, and Jackson decided to release her story “into the wild.”

“When I thought about the fact that we already publish short texts on skin, in the form of tattoos, I saw a way to do it,” Jackson said. “Only later did I realize that a story published one word at a time on the bodies of 2,095 volunteers – in different cities, on different continents, but bound together by the tenuous thread of narrative – is a sort of Frankenstein monster.”

During her presentation, Jackson will read from her latest novel, “Riddance: Or the Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children,” which tells the story of a fictional school where children with speech impediments are trained to channel the dead. The story is told through a collection of archival materials from the school, and it focuses on the school’s headmistress and her protégée.

ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2006 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.

Authors are available after each reading to sign copies of their books. Each author also meets with students and attends a community reception.

The spring lineup of the UHV/ABR Reading Series will be announced soon. For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as a teaching center in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All Initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student popular, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.