Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Steven Parlato

Steven Parlato is an award-winning author and poet. Upon the release of his YA debut, The Namesake, Publishers Weekly called him “a name to watch.” A college English professor (with a giraffe-filled office), illustrator, and actor, Parlato has played roles including the Scarecrow, Macbeth, and the Munchie Mania Guy in a Friendly’s training film. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, two teens, and a Binks-like cockapoo.

Parlato's new novel is The Precious Dreadful.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
As a college English professor, much of my reading focuses on student work in my four classes each semester. Thousands of pages range from, well, awful, to sometimes remarkable in form and content. Reading in support of students becoming deeper thinkers and polished communicators is both exhausting and inspirational.

During the academic year, much of my reading is also rooted in the classroom, from essays by the likes of Nicholas Kristof to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. That play’s a particular favorite; I've played both the fickle lover, Demetrius, and that famous ass, Nick Bottom. I love introducing it to students, winning them over to Shakespeare.

A new addition to my 200-level lit class, Studies in Young Adult Fiction, was Angie Thomas's excellent The Hate U Give. Its focus on the murder of Blacks by police was handled with an unflinching truth and sense of fairness that impressed. Thomas spotlighted our national shame, avoiding heavy-handedness, while leaving me with a very heavy heart. We have much work to do.

Also in that class, we read three of my faves: Chinese Handcuff, by Chris Crutcher; Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; and Stephanie Kuehn's Charm & Strange. Each reminds me that by being bold, authentic, and unafraid to tackle dark topics--abuse, mental illness, racism--tempered with humor, we provide a space for readers to meet individuals who share their struggles, and to develop empathy for others' unique burdens.

Two other recent favorites are Emma Donoghue's brutal Room, and Nutshell, by Ian McEwan. Donoghue's writing mined beauty and power from a situation that could have remained merely horrific. McEwan's book, with its Hamlet allusion and pre-natal narrator, reminded me anything is possible in crafting written worlds.

As a poet, I treasure poetry collections for their lessons on image and economy of words. Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, and Claude McKay are particular heroes. My fiction benefits from the distillation of language I've learned reading and writing poems. I'm currently loving a limited edition chapbook, Dinner Parites, by my dear friend and mentor, Edwina Trentham. Her collection, Stumbling Into the Light, from Antrim House, never ceases to move me, inspiring my own writing.

I'm a believer in the importance of every word, whether I'm writing a sestina or a novel. The works and writers I've mentioned are ones I return to often in search of that vein-deep connection we only find through words in white space. They never disappoint.
Visit Steven Parlato's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Precious Dreadful.

--Marshal Zeringue