Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stephanie Reents

Stephanie Reents's fiction has been included in the O. Henry Prize Stories, noted in Best American Short Stories, and has appeared in numerous journals. She has been a Bread Loaf Conference Scholar, a Stegner Fellow, and a Rhodes Scholar. Reents is an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Her new book is The Kissing List.

Recently I asked Reents what she was reading. Her reply:
Because it’s the end of the semester, I’ve been reading a lot of promising work by my students at College of the Holy Cross. Some of the highlights include an essay about playing basketball at Ruckers Park in Harlem written by a freshman after a class fieldtrip to New York City. Another piece, a story called “Passing the Ball,” is long meditation on a young man’s memories of his childhood in Brazil and the role soccer played in his life. Luiza Mouzinho, the senior who wrote this story, had never taken a creative writing class before this one, and she completely blew me away. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
Rocinha is a favela, which I guess in English means ghetto, but that word holds no meaning for me. I hear people say that a ghetto is an ugly place, but a favela is a beautiful place. It’s a place you can love and hate without contradicting yourself. When you are at the top of Rocinha you can see the back of the Christ figure, his arms outstretched toward the rich city below Him. Some nights I would stand outside my house, knocking the ball gently between my ankles, and ask Christ to turn around and look at me. I thought that if he could see what was happening in my favela, see the violence and poverty, that maybe he would do something. But they cut off the power in the favelas at night, which plunges everyone into darkness and makes people afraid. So before he had the chance to turn around, I was called inside.
One of the other luxuries of teaching is that I get to revisit some of my favorite stories every year. This spring, I rediscovered my love of Edward Jones’s collection, Lost in the City. Every story is a masterpiece, but I especially admire the final one, “Marie,” about an elderly woman so hardened by the crime in her neighborhood and the bureaucracy she has to confront to keep her Social Security benefits that she can’t bear to remember the sense of hope she felt as a young woman when she first came to Washington D.C., a city where all things felt possible. Another story that always amazes me is Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer” in her wonderful collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. The premise – a man undergoing reverse evolution – is such an ingenious metaphor for describing the loss we all feel at the end of a relationship. Finally, it was such a pleasure to discover to Danielle Evans’s debut collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. The female narrators of both “Virgins” and “Snakes,” two of my favorite stories in this book, reveal their flaws in the final scenes, which rather than damning them make them strong, likeable, memorable characters. Evan’s book was refreshing because her female protagonists make their own mistakes – they lie, they make bad choices, they abandon their friends. They don’t, however, fall victim to the dangers that women are constantly being reminded to watch for. I can’t wait for her novel.
Visit Stephanie Reents's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Kissing List.

--Marshal Zeringue