Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wayne Harrison

Before working as a corrections officer in Rutland, Vermont, Wayne Harrison was an auto mechanic for six years in Waterbury, Connecticut. A first-generation college student, he began in his mid twenties as a criminal justice major before getting turned on to creative writing by mentor and friend Jeffrey Greene. He later received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Harrison's fiction has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. His short stories appear in Best American Short Stories 2010, The Atlantic, Narrative Magazine, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, The Sun, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, FiveChapters, New Letters and other magazines. His fiction has earned a Maytag fellowship, an Oregon Literary fellowship and a Fishtrap Writing Fellowship. He teaches writing at Oregon State University.

Harrison's debut novel is The Spark and the Drive.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Harrison's reply:
Like many authors, or at least authors I know, I'm reading a couple of books at once. I like to juxtapose first person and third person point of views, as voice is what I pay most attention to in my own writing. I'm currently reading my friend and former fiction teacher Tim Parrish's evocative memoir Fear and What Follows, which describes his hardscrabble upbringing in working class Louisiana in the 1970s. It's a powerful and fascinating book that intelligently captures the persisting violence and racism of the south at that time. I love memoirs that, like Wolff's masterpiece This Boy's Life, make me feel astounded that the writer ever escaped his own childhood, and this is certainly one of those.

I'm also reading Téa Obreht's brilliant debut novel The Tiger's Wife, about life and death in the Balkans after years of war. A young doctor is trying to puzzle out the mysterious circumstances of her grandfather's death and embarks upon an astonishing journey. The people and circumstances are extraordinary, but perhaps most remarkable is that so much heartfelt wisdom was penned by someone in her twenties. I know it's received widespread praise, but I'll add my own two cents: It's really an exquisite book.

I've also just finished Denis Johnson's gorgeous novella Train Dreams. I've been a fan of Johnson's visionary prose since grad school, when I used to carry Jesus' Son around like a bible in my pocket. I would have been very happy to see this book take the Pulitzer the year it was a finalist, when they didn't give the award in fiction. I'm astounded, as always, by Johnson's tight, perilous sentences that reveal the poet he started off as, before turning to fiction. It's a story of a long, difficult and very modest life riddled with sadness and brief rapture. But the language and perspective are stunning, as is the compassion they evoke from the reader. The dialogue alone is exact and convincing enough to keep you constantly wondering how it could be that Johnson didn't actually live in this time period. It's a book I'll certainly read again and again.
Visit Wayne Harrison's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Spark and the Drive.

--Marshal Zeringue