Last night I went to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma to see my friend Kelly Luce read from her new novel, Pull Me Under. Kelly was in my workshop group at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in summer 2015; another fellow Sewanee alum, Jason Skipper, teaches at PLU and had organized Kelly’s visit to the campus. I was eager for the chance to see my friends and hear their words.
I was seeking the solace of their art.
It’s been a rough week since the election. Emotions everyone have been running high, and I’ve mostly wanted to just focus on home and family. I did notice that a lot of my writer friends, though, were throwing themselves into their art, or at least announcing on social media that they intended to. I couldn’t. I set aside my NaNoWriMo project and hadn’t written anything beyond a Wordstock recap since last Tuesday. Until yesterday, when I finally settled back into my own novel, returning to the outlet of fiction.
Kelly’s appearance here in Tacoma, then, was well timed, because now that I was writing again, the pull of literature drew me to my friends and an evening of art and creativity and intelligent discussion.
The reading event itself was excellent. There was a good turnout in the audience, a mix of students and faculty and community members like me. I also got to meet another PLU faculty member, author Wendy Call (No Word for Welcome: the Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy). After Jason Skipper introduced the evening, a PLU student, Annalise Campbell, read an excerpt from an award-winning story she’d written. (It was a great piece — left me wanted to finish the story! — and she read it well.) Then Annalise Campbell introduced Kelly, giving a thoughtful (and thorough!) review of Kelly’s debut collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, as well as her new novel, Pull Me Under, and tied it all to an analysis of Kelly’s importance as a writer. Brought Kelly to tears; her first words at the mic were to ask if anyone had a tissue!
Kelly’s reading was perfect: an interesting background for the novel in general, a handful of short selections rather than one long chunk of text, great transition banter and mini-intros between the selections. Her Q&A, too, was terrific, with audience questions about cultural sensitivity, differing perspectives on American and Japanese society, language choices, international education, and literary influences. I took a lot of notes — now that I’m back into my own novel, a lot of the things Kelly and the audience discussed inspired ideas for things to work on.
Afterward, I was chatting with Kelly about her book tour, and how rough a week it’s been, and she commented on how many people she knew who were giving themselves over to art and literature, how many were attending readings and book launches and gallery openings and theatre showings more than usual in the past week. We talked about how artists seek each other out in difficult times, how much we need each other even when our impulses are to hide inside the page. And Kelly mentioned how much she’s appreciated the people who have come out to see her read. How grateful she is for them.
I was grateful, too. For the literary community, for the communion of art and ideas . . . for friends.
If you want to head out to see Kelly Luce read, she’ll be in LaGrange, IL, this evening (November 16), then she’s back on the West Coast for readings in Santa Cruz (November 17) and San Francisco (November 18). If you’re in New York, she’ll be at the KGB Bar on December 4. Check out her Appearances page on her website.