|photo: Jesus Perez
Mesha Maren's short stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, Oxford American, Crazyhorse, Southern Cultures, Hobart, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She is the 2018-2019 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also serves as a National Endowment of the Arts Writing Fellow at the Beckley Federal Correctional Institution. Sugar Run (Algonquin Books, January 8, 2019) is her debut novel.
On your nightstand now:
Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer--an amazing autobiographical novel written by a man from Huntington, W.Va., about his years of homelessness during the 1930s.
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians by Peter Guralnick--an exploration of early country, rockabilly and the blues music.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I found a copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology in the library when I was probably about nine and I became obsessed with it. I grew up way out in the country and we didn't have a TV, so I invented ways to entertain myself. One of those was to make my own audiobooks. My parents had given my sister a little pink boombox and I would borrow it and record myself reading my favorite books: Hamilton's Mythology, Joel Chandler Harris's Brer Rabbit Stories, Forrest Carter's The Education of Little Tree. I still have a few of those cassette tapes and the funny thing is that I had no idea how to pronounce the Greek names in Mythology but that didn't stop me. I mangled the names and kept right on going.
I also became deeply obsessed with Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott" when I was 12. I memorized the whole poem and performed it at my elementary school talent show. It didn't quite have the effect that I had anticipated: I don't think anyone knew what to make of a gangly girl in an old wedding dress reciting Victorian poetry.
Your top five (?) authors:
Anne Carson, Mary Gaitskill, James Baldwin, Denis Johnson, Robert Stone, Larry Brown, Joan Didion, Pete Dexter.
Book you've faked reading:
I've never faked reading any book. I have a ton of experience with faking like I've watched TV shows and movies, though. I grew up without a TV at home so I spent years stealthily navigating conversations while trying not to admit that I had seen almost no movies or TV shows.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I read advance copies of these two books and was blown away:
Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria--an explosive portrayal of teenage life, mental illness and self-destruction (coming in May 2019).
Meander Belt: Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working-Class South by M. Randal O'Wain--a collection of gorgeous, whip-smart essays (October 2019).
I'm also always telling people that they have to read The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan and Virgin and Other Stories by April Ayers Lawson.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Fat City by Leonard Gardner and Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter. Gardner and Carpenter were the first two NYRB Classics that I bought, and they are two of the best books I've read over the past five years. All of the NYRB Classics covers are f*cking gorgeous--In the Café of Lost Youth, The Seven Madmen, Life and Fate.
Book you hid from your parents:
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. I hid it under my mattress because I felt sure that if my parents so much as caught sight of the book they would somehow automatically know that I had masturbated to passages from it.
Book that changed your life:
Written on the Body by Jeannette Winterson and Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison. It was after reading Winterson's novel that I finally got the guts to come out to my family. And Allison's novel was important because it was the first time I saw rural lesbian characters--queer women who didn't live in cities and go to gay bars but instead went spelunking and worked at country gas stations.
Favorite line from a book:
"This can't be living. I drink too much Old Milwaukee and wake up in the morning and it tastes like old bread crusts in my mouth. All my underwear's dirty, I can't find my insurance policy." --from "The Apprentice" by Larry Brown in Big Bad Love
Five (?) books you'll never part with:
Denis Johnson's Angels
Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
Ann Pancake's Given Ground
Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays
James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime
Pete Dexter's Deadwood
Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary
John O'Brien's Leaving Las Vegas
Tom Spanbauer's In the City of Shy Hunters
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Bible, King James Version.