Reading with... Jamie Quatro

photo: McKenna Quatro

Jamie Quatro's first novel, Fire Sermon (Grove Press, January 9, 2018), is a January 2018 Indie Next Selection. Her first short story collection, I Want to Show You More, was published in 2013. Quatro is a contributing editor at Oxford American and teaches in the MFA program at Sewanee, the University of the South. She lives with her husband and four children in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

On your nightstand now:

It's a mighty big stack. Let's see: a galley of Leslie Jamison's The Recovering, out in April--it's a blend of memoir, reportage, literary criticism and cultural history that overturns and re-visions the addiction memoir. Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel, a National Book Award finalist, which I'm reading in preparation for a panel we're on together at AWP. Nafissa Thompson-Spires's forthcoming story collection, Heads of the Colored People, which dissects racism with a forensic scrutiny I've never seen before. Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing, excerpts of which I read in the Oxford American and immediately bought the book. The new James Salter essay collection, Don't Save Anything, because new James Salter! Stephen Prothero's brilliant God Is Not One and the Qur'an, both of which I'm reading to prepare for a lecture next April.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet series. My favorite book was A Wind in the Door, though the images of evil terrified me: I used to scan the night sky for rips in the galaxy and wonder if my elementary school principal was himself or a replica (and would I be able to tell the difference?). When I felt tired, I'd wonder if an Echthroi was attacking my mitochondria or farandolae. I think what I was drawn to, as a child, was the notion of instantaneous connections between things at the cosmic and cellular levels. That kind of unity felt, and still feels, deeply true to me.

Your top five authors:

This is an impossible question. Can I make it into two categories, "older" and "newer"? 1) Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Faulkner, Joyce. 2) Grace Paley, Barry Hannah, James Salter, Sharon Olds, Maggie Nelson.

Book you've faked reading:

Anna Karenina. How embarrassing to admit. I skipped all the Levin/farming business to get to Anna and Vronsky.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Poetry. All of it. Jack Gilbert is the poet I find myself most often re-reading; he's not afraid to use the big feeling words, love and failure and grief and loneliness. Like Sharon Olds, he doesn't shy away from writing about the messiness of sexual love. It's an exciting time to be a poetry lover; there are so many talented artists working today. Some of my favorites are: T.J. Jarrett, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Kaveh Akbar, Emilia Phillips, Tomás Q. Morín, Donika Kelly, Tiana Clark, Nickole Brown, Ansel Elkins, Victoria Chang, Terrance Hayes, Nikky Finney, Natalie Diaz and Kevin Young. When students ask, "How do I become a writer?" the first thing I say is read poetry. I've thought about getting it tattooed on my palm.

Book you've bought for the cover:

My daughter collects editions of The Great Gatsby. I recently bought her a "Benediction Classics" edition. I'd never heard of the press (out of Oxford) or seen the cover illustration--a red-haired woman in vampish '20s attire, striking a devil-may-care pose with a smoking cigarette in a theater-length holder balanced on her upturned palm.

Book you hid from your parents:

More embarrassment: Forever and Wifey by Judy Blume. Actually, I didn't hide Wifey. It was a level up from Forever, sex-wise, so I coerced my best friend into hiding it for me. Forever was risky enough--I was a sheltered kid.

Book that changed your life:

Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the book that made me want to be a writer, when I was in college. The way he probed the sexual/sacred connection, and the way he could turn words into music. More recently, Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss. I've probably read it 10 times.

Favorite line from a book:

"That world! These days it's all been erased and they've rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it?" --from Denis Johnson's short story "Emergency," in Jesus' Son.

Five books you'll never part with:

Salter's Light Years. Woolf's To the Lighthouse. C.S. Lewis's Collected Letters. My mother's copy of Jane Eyre. And a falling-apart Bible my parents gave me when I graduated from high school.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

David Foster Wallace's "Good Old Neon," in his collection Oblivion. It's a long short story. I would say why, but that would give too much away. That story was--and still is--a revelation.

Up-and-coming writers you're excited about:

Sidik Fofana, a New York-based writer whose first two stories were published by Adam Ross in the Sewanee Review. Sidik and I read at an event together, and he is one of the best readers I've ever heard. Danielle Lazarin, whose collection Back Talk comes out in February. A writer based in Belfast, Phil Harrison, whose debut novel, The First Day, was just released in the U.S. And Jamey Hatley, a Memphis writer whose work I've read in the Oxford American. She's one to watch.

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