Thursday, Jan. 29 saw the start of this semester’s VOICES Reading Series with a reading by short-story author Kate Milliken. Milliken, whose critically acclaimed book of interconnected short stories, If I’d Known You Were Coming, earned the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, read the first story from her book, titled “A Matter of Time.”
This particular story centered around Lorrie, a wife and mother whose sharp criticisms of others, including and especially her own kindergarten-aged daughter, Caroline, reveal her own unhappiness, selfishness, and lack of fulfillment. The book in its entirety generally centers around Caroline and a select number of people who were present in and influenced her life; its cohesive selection of stories all take place in the same literary world.
On her writing process, Milliken said, “Ideas for stories never come to me fully formed. The seed is usually a snippet of dialogue, an image, some exchange between two people or even just a poetic line. From there I develop the characters involved and in getting to know them I must learn their fears and desires. Once I know what a character yearns for I can move into plotting the larger story. The recurring characters in my collection, Caroline and those that orbit her, just kept returning to me, having more to say, more struggles to work through. Naturally, I had to impose some chronology in order to create a feeling of evolution (or decline) from one story to the next.”
Milliken held a brief Q and A after the reading, during which she answered questions about her writing style, writing process, and personal connections to the stories. She said she enjoys writing dark stories, claiming, “I wanted to leave people unsettled.”
She elaborated later, saying, “When I say that I want to leave people unsettled it is because I believe all art should, in some way, ask the viewer/reader to step out of their normal comfort zone, to be shoved a little off the beaten path. A disquieting experience that, in turn, possibly, hopefully, requires them to see the world a little differently, from a new perspective. In other words, I want the reader to feel they’ve had someone else’s experience, they’ve truly empathized. So by unsettled I mean that I’d like to have moved the reader outside of themselves.”
The VOICES Reading series, which is currently run by Professor of English Jennifer Cognard-Black, was started 30 years ago by poet and professor emeritus Michael Glaser along with former professor and poet laureate Lucille Clifton. Jan. 29’s reading was dedicated to Professor Glaser. Co-funded by “the English Department, the Environmental Studies Program, the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program, the International Languages and Cultures Department, the Alumni Office, the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor and Culture, Slack Winery, and the Arts Alliance of St. Mary’s College of Maryland,” these free events occur on Thursday nights throughout the semester at 8:15 in Daugherty-Palmer Commons.
Next in the VOICES series will be Paul Hanstedt, a memoirist/short-story writer/professor at Roanoke College, who will be giving a reading on Feb. 19.