Last night I met one of my literary heroines, Dorothy Allison. She was invited to our public library by the Women’s Studies and English departments of a local university. There she read us a short story which is yet to be published! It was wonderful, as are all her stories. I sat spell-bound throughout the story she read, as if I were being handed a priceless treasure and I needed to carefully retain each tiny morsel. It was amazing to hear her voice, listen to her words and know that they were written by her. She read to us from the legal pad on which she had written – that is how “pure” the story was.
For those of you who don’t know of Dorothy Allison, she is a Southern writer, born and raised in the town of Greenville, SC. Her most famous work is Bastard Out of Carolina, which was made into a movie of the same title. She also wrote Cavedweller, which was adapted to movie form. I fell I love with her writing through a collection of short stories entitled Trash. She also wrote a collection of essays about her life under the title, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.
What makes her an exceptional literary artist? Quite simply, it is her brutal honesty, vaguely clothed with humor. This is not humor that lessens the severity of the truth, but rather the spoonful of sugar given with the medicine. It makes it go down easier, but there is no doubt in your mind that it is still medicine. Her subject matter is the rural South, its people and its ills. Poverty, abuse within families, and the degradation of women are common in her tales. However, in the midst of all the pain and the ugliness, she draws out the beauty and the strength of these women and how they deal with the hand which life has dealt. Some of her short stories and essays also deal with prejudice in the forms of socioeconomic status, gender and sexuality. Allison writes about the life she lived and the women she knows.
She also talked about herself, her family, her life and the tradition of story-telling. She willingly fielded questions from the audience that ranged from her philosophy of Southern writers (why must they leave the South in order to write the truth about the South?) to her personal life in California. Afterwards, she signed copies of her book.
I have seldom known what it is to be awe-struck and very rarely have I been awe-struck in the presence of another human being. Quite frankly, it usually takes a phenomenal act of nature to inspire awe within me. However, I was awe-struck as I stepped up to the table for Dorothy Allison to sign my copies of Trash and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. Any semblance of intelligent conversation on my part was hopeless. Meeting Dorothy Allison was a ray of hope in a recently frustrating darkness. I am grateful for the opportunity.