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MFA

Ryan Leigh Dostie, BA, '11, MFA, '16

A 21-year-old soldier is raped in her barracks by a fellow soldier, and she reports the assault right away. But Army commanders don’t trust her story, and instead of trying to bring the rapist to justice, they look for ways to delegitimize the woman. It’s a familiar narrative in today’s #MeToo environment, and in alumna Ryan Leigh Dostie’s memoir, Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line, published on June 4, the reader accompanies Dostie – who was raped at 21 while serving in the U.S. Army – on her journey of pain, outrage, trauma, and survival, as she navigates the military and life beyond its hierarchy as a rape survivor.

Dostie, who holds an MFA in fiction writing and a bachelor’s degree in history from Southern, has been receiving a lot of attention for her book, even well before its publication. Last November, Formation was selected as Shelf Awareness’ “Gallery Love of the Week,” in an industry newsletter that reviews books not yet published. More recently, Formation was chosen by Amazon editors as June’s top debut, and it is listed as #2 in Esquire’s “Best Books of Summer 2019.” BookRiot named Formation one of its “50 of the Best Books to Read This Summer”; Patch named Formation one of “The 10 Best Books To Read In June”; and PureWow listed it as one of “9 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in June.” The book has also been reviewed on Publishers Weekly, Amazon, and Goodreads.

When Dostie joined the Army in 2000, she did so as a linguist. By now, she has studied six languages, and she had spent a year of high school studying in Japan. When she joined the Army, she intended to become a Japanese interrogator. However, the Army had other plans for her and sent her to the prestigious Defense Language Institute of Monterey for an intensive program in Persian Farsi, the language spoken in Iran.

In 2001, an enlisted man in her unit raped her, and she immediately reported the assault to her superiors, who were at best skeptical and unsympathetic. Even after reporting, Dostie was forced to continue working with her rapist. The commanders who questioned her about what happened pressed her on whether or not she had told her rapist “no,” and they tried to paint her as promiscuous, or to portray her as trying to protect her reputation by accusing her attacker of rape. In the end, the Army dropped the case, and Dostie was left with PTSD, which would eventually take a toll on her mental health and ability to function.

“The book is about rape and how the Army handles it,” Dostie says. But it also is a devastating account of what happens to a rape victim when she reports and is not believed. Dostie stayed in the Army after her attack, and in April 2003, when the Iraq War was well under way, she was sent to Iraq. She had been told that her PTSD “could be a problem if she was deployed,” and it was: she says of that time, “I was not mentally sound.” She did spend 15 months there, however, and her presence in a war zone, compounded by her PTSD, essentially added one trauma to another.

In April 2004, when the uprising in Sadr City occurred, after Saddam Hussein was caught, Dostie says, “We were all packed to go home, and then they said we had to stay.” She did return to the United States eventually, and says at first she felt fine but then started showing signs of PTSD. She got out of active duty in 2005 and eventually returned home to Connecticut, which helped her PTSD. She began to attend Southern and date the man who would become her husband.

An Honors College student and history major at Southern, Dostie wrote two honors theses: one was in history and one, a creative writing thesis, was the beginnings of Formation. She says the manuscript that would eventually become Formation had actually started in an introductory fiction writing class as a “sci-fi futuristic Civil War-type story about a woman in the infantry – a woman working with all men in this masculine military environment.” When she told English Professor Tim Parrish, who taught that course, that she had been in the military, he advised that the story should be about her own experience. She rewrote it into a story about a woman in the military in Iraq, and it became her honors thesis.

She graduated with her B.A. in 2011, and when she joined the MFA program in creative writing a few years later, she rewrote the honors thesis into her MFA thesis. Parrish says, “Having worked with Ryan on this material from the time she took her first Intro to Fiction class through her MFA thesis, I’ve seen how she earned this book, not only in terms of her incredible work ethic and steadfast growth as a writer, but maybe moreso as a person with the courage and steadfastness to confront and process so much awful history, to survive, and to make great art from her experience. This book is not only outstanding, it’s important.”

Dostie sold the book several days before the #MeToo movement broke, and she says now #MeTooMilitary is gaining traction. There has been a spike in the number of reporting sexual assaults in the military, she says, adding, “They’ve changed how you report it, but if you report, it can still affect your career.”

The Army is now doing SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) briefings to teach soldiers about sexual assault and harassment. The briefings can be effective, Dostie says, “but people have to take it seriously. They are learning about consent and what is sexual harassment. It’s about trying to change the culture.”

Learn more about Ryan Leigh Dostie

Dostie will be a featured reader at the SCSU MFA Program’s 10 anniversary celebration in fall 2019. Find out more about her upcoming local events (readings, book signings, etc.).

Poet, artist, and lecturer, Pat Mottola, ’87, M.S. ’90, MFA ’11, shares her truth — and teaches others to do the same.

Pat Mottola, '87, M.S. '90, MFA '11, has written two books: “After Hours,” a collection of portrait poems of colorful characters, and “Under the Red Dress,” full of sensual imagery.

Note: Pat Mottola is one of two recipients of this year’s prestigious CSCU systemwide Board of Regents Adjunct Teaching Award. The Board of Regents Adjunct Faculty Teaching Awards are given to recognize part-time faculty who have distinguished themselves as outstanding teachers with a track record of increasing student learning and promoting instructional improvements for their programs or departments.

Whether she’s guiding Afghan women toward the right English word to express the pain of oppression or helping Southern students discover their voice, creative writing lecturer Pat Mottola, ’87, M.S. ’90, MFA ’11, is driven by a force beyond her own talent. “My goal in life is to help people and enrich their lives,” Mottola says. “I guess I’m just a born teacher.”

Mottola — who teaches creative writing, poetry, and composition — has three Southern degrees: bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education earned in 1987 and 1990, respectively, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing received in 2011. She began experimenting with writing in about 2007, prompting her return to the classroom. “I thought, I love doing this, but I need to learn how to do it right. I had a lot to write about,” she says.

She originally envisioned taking only a few writing courses at Southern. But she was inspired by her first poetry teacher, the late Professor of English Will Hochman, and as time went on, her professors encouraged her to earn a degree.

After raising her children, Mottola taught art in various settings. When Southern later hired her to teach writing, it was a perfect fit, she says, building on her passion for education. She’s known as the professor who takes attendance — it counts toward students’ grades — and more notoriously as one with a strict policy of no cell phones in class. “I say, ‘If this was a job interview, you wouldn’t have a phone,’” Mottola explains. “I want the best for them.’

But once the course is underway, students find something more meaningful than texting or the internet — their own voice. The interactive, workshop-style class is conducted in small groups. As the semester goes on, Mottola loves seeing students bounce ideas off one another, gaining confidence along the way. “Students realize they have something meaningful to offer the world,” she says. “They all have something to say.”

In one of her most fulfilling teaching roles to date, Mottola was a mentor for two years through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. The project produced a book of poetry and prose, “Washing the Dust From Our Hearts,” in which women share details of their lives under the Taliban. Because education for women in Afghanistan is discouraged, the operation was clandestine on their end. The women met at a secret location and mentoring was done online. Mottola gave the women writing prompts and feedback.

“A mentor can see in the poems/stories when the women are in danger. What can we do? I have often wanted to get on a plane and bring the writer back [to the U.S.],” Mottola says. “The most difficult thing for me is when I read about young girls — daughters or sisters, ages 12-14 — being sold to men who abuse them.”

In the introduction to the book, a woman named Pari, writes: “Writing began for me as an escape from my burqa, an escape from my most painful moments. With my pen and notebook, I had a secret place where I gave myself freedoms that were forbidden to me.”

In addition to her work at Southern, Mottola teaches poetry at Calendar House Senior Center in Southington, Conn., where she has taught art for 25 years. The seniors create museum-quality art pieces, she says. She shares that one widow, who is 89, is a marvelous artist who only recently picked up a brush because her late husband doubted her talent.

Mottola is also co-president of the Connecticut Poetry Society and an award-winning poet and artist who has written two books: “After Hours,” a collection of portrait poems of colorful characters, and “Under the Red Dress,” full of sensual imagery. She loves to write about people of all walks of life, in all situations — people in bars, family, veterans, and male/female relationships. “Everyone I meet is fascinating to me,” she says.

Homeless
––for Dorothy Z.

In those days your parents didn’t always
keep you –– or your sisters. In the 1930’s
they gave you away like cheap dishes
doled out in movie theaters. Ten cents

for a movie and a porcelain plate. Forgotten
on laps, they often fell, cracked or chipped,
got left behind. Odd pieces everywhere.
Disposable –– like you, shipped to aunts, uncles,

or the Klingberg Children’s Home, New Britain,
someone who could afford to put food on your
plate. No questions asked. Poverty spawning
an incomplete set, siblings were separated,

sent away by bus or train –– Maine, Connecticut,
Kansas –– no yellow brick road, no wizard,
no ruby slippers to click together, wish yourself
home.

— Pat Mottola

See other stories from the online issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Lee Keylock, far right, on a Narrative 4 panel discussion held at Southern in June 2014

Lee Keylock believes in the power of stories. A graduate of Southern’s MFA program in creative writing, an instructor in the English Department and a high school English teacher in Newtown, Keylock’s professional life is all about stories, language and narrative and teaching students to harness and use their power. After the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, on a day when he was teaching his classes at Newtown High School, Keylock, like so many who were close to the event, felt powerless to help his students. He began to search for ways to help them cope with the immense grief they were dealing with, and naturally, he turned to stories. A novel crossed his path — Let the Great World Spin by the Irish writer Colum McCann — and Keylock thought this might just be a book that could offer his students some hope. The New York Times has called the novel “the greatest novel to come out of the World Trade Center attacks.” Yet Keylock says the book ultimately offers a vision of redemption.

Keylock wrote to McCann, asking for his help. In return, McCann sent Keylock copies of the book for his students and offered to come to Newtown to meet with them. In his meetings with students, McCann listened to their stories, but also told them some of his own, and he talked to them about an organization he had just helped found, called Narrative4 (N4). He explained to them that N4 is based on story exchanges: it connects groups of students from different parts of the country and the world and then pairs students within the groups to exchange personal stories one on one. Each person must then retell his or her partner’s story back to the group. The stories can range from accounts of losing a parent to cancer or a friend to gang violence, to tales of first love. Some of the meetings take place in person while many take place on Google hangouts because of distance. Regardless of the means through which they take part, those who have participated in an N4 story exchange say they find the experience profound and often transformative.

After McCann’s visit, Keylock was inspired to become involved with N4 and eventually became one of the organization’s lead educational advisers. He wanted to try an N4 story exchange with his own students. The organization was very new; the first exchange took place in Chicago in March 2013, with several educators and community leaders. The idea behind N4 is “to promote empathy through the exchange of stories” and “break down barriers and shatter stereotypes” by encouraging participants to see the world through each other’s eyes. Keylock says, “It’s easy to become cynical in today’s world. Narrative 4 is fostering a sense of hope. It is an authentic experience that makes kids feel heard and relevant.” He says the program can work for anyone, but because he is a teacher, his focus is on students.

In January, Keylock implemented exchanges with 180 students in four classrooms at Newtown High School, and he and his colleagues introduced the first official curriculum model in the classroom. In March, he and a teacher from Chicago’s Crane High School connected 12 students from the west side of Chicago and 12 students from Newtown. He explains that the story exchange experience requires that students really listen to each other and come to “own” each other’s stories. Keylock says that “kids find out they have the same hopes and fears,” no matter where they come from in the world. The process is very powerful, he says, and students often keep in touch with each other after going through it and become “ambassadors” for the program. N4 describes itself as teaching “radical empathy,” and certainly, as Keylock describes it, taking part in an N4 exchange can do just that.

Because it can be so cathartic, Keylock says, teachers do follow-up activities with their students, and he explains, “we are working on ‘sustainability’ as we speak, finding authentic ways for students to stay involved and feel relevant after the exchanges are complete.” He gives his own students questions to respond to in writing following an N4 exchange, encouraging them to talk about how the experience made them feel and what it taught them.

Keylock recently made the difficult decision to leave his teaching position at Newtown to work for N4 in curriculum development. He says while he will miss teaching and his students, he believes in the N4 objectives and adds, “I can help a lot more people this way.”

 

 

 

 

Robin Troy has always wanted to write a story that shows that age is just a number and the human spirit is ageless. “We live in a society that doesn’t pay attention to the elderly,” she says. In her new novel Liberty Lanes, published just last month by the University of Nevada Press, the associate professor of English and director of the M.F.A. program in creative writing looks at the lives of a group of senior citizens who come together at a bowling alley in Montana and are determined to live life to the fullest.

So far, Troy’s book has garnered some positive reviews. Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red, says, “Liberty Lanes is a transcendent story about the power of love and friendship. You’re never too old to discover the wonders of love.” Deirdre McNamer, author of “Red Rover,” says, “Liberty Lanes is a wonderfully calm and large-hearted examination of the ways that ordinary people meet the demands of age and infirmity with surpassing grace.”

Robin Troy

Troy says she began writing the novel on a CSU grant in 2006, during the summer after she first came to Southern. She was inspired by a group of senior bowlers she had come to know in Missoula, Mont., where she was a graduate student in the University of Montana’s M.F.A. program and a reporter for a local newspaper.

Around the holidays, Troy’s editor at the paper asked her to write a feature story about someone playing Jesus in a pageant. But Troy asked around and couldn’t find anyone playing Jesus; however, she told her editor she could do a story about a 70-year-old man she knew who played Santa. Each year at Christmastime, he would dress up as Santa and board a helicopter with another man dressed as an elf, and they would fly to several Montana towns, delivering chocolate Santas and outdated chapsticks donated by Avon.

“I met him when he was in his 30th year of playing Santa,” Troy says. “We really hit it off.” He invited her to meet him at the local bowling alley to finish her interview for the article.

“I walked into that bowling alley, and whammo!” Troys says. The place was full of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, “and there was such positive energy and perspective, I just immediately wanted to be a part of it.” She started spending time with the bowlers.

During the three years that she was in Missoula, working on her degree, Troy says, “these people made a real difference” for her. They have parties on the weekends, to which she was invited, and “by the end, I was like a member of the family.”

“This group was a fantastic illustration of what it’s like to be in your 80s and really living with spirit,” Troy says. The characters in the novel are inspired by the people she knew, Troy says, but no one character is any one real person.

In the novel, Liberty Lanes is a bowling alley in a small Montana town where a senior bowling league meets three times a week. Nelson Moore, one of the bowlers, has recently become a local hero by saving a teammate from choking on a happy hour chicken bone. Now he must deal with his newfound fame while coping with the early stages of dementia.

Troy felt she might have some trouble finding a publisher for her book, given what she perceived as low interest regarding the elderly as subjects of a novel. But she met an editor at a book fair and after they talked, Troy says she “knew that this book had found a home.” She revised the manuscript based on extensive feedback from the publisher and got the final word last spring that it would be published.

“The editing was very careful and loving,” Troy says, “but I had to tone down a lot of the language. These are tough, no-nonsense people. Many do manual labor or worked for the state, and they all came to know each other through bowling.”

Troy is traveling to Missoula this month to read from her new book at the Montana Festival of the Book. While in Montana, she will see her bowling friends, do a couple of book signings and give a radio interview. “This is really a celebration of these people for me,” Troy says.

She will give a reading at Southern on Nov. 10 with CSU Professor Vivian Shipley. Troy is also the author of another novel, Floating.

The cover of Jeff Mock’s new book is a stark photograph of barbed wire in extreme closeup, the focus on the sharp point of a rough barb – not exactly an image that makes a reader think of poetry. But writer Allison Joseph says Mock’s new book, “Ruthless,” is “just that—ruthless in its precise and incisive vision of our off-kilter world, cutting through the shams of language and thought to arrive at hard-won humor that makes his readers see his—and their—foibles all the more clearly.” The image of the barbed wire speaks to the collection’s toughness and incisiveness.

English professor Mock’s first published full-length poetry collection, “Ruthless” came out on Jan. 1, and he calls its publication “a relief.” He explains that the way poetry books get published is by winning competitions. His manuscript “bounced around for several years,” he says, as he sent it to different contests and publishers. It came close to being published on several occasions, sometimes a semifinalist and sometimes a finalist. At last, poet Deborah Keenan selected it as the winner of the Three Candles Open Book Competition.

Although “Ruthless” is Mock’s first full-length book, he has numerous other publications. His first book, “Evening Travelers,” a chapbook, was published in 1994 by a very small press, with handset type on handmade paper and a handsewn binding. It is no longer in print.

His second book, “You Can Write Poetry,” was a commission, designed for a specific audience. A poetry writing guidebook for writing groups and individuals, “You Can Write Poetry,” now also out of print, was aimed at beginning writers.

Mock has also published a number of poems in such prominent journals as The Atlantic Monthly, Cincinnati Review, Connecticut Review, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, The Georgia Review, The Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, New England Review, The North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Quarterly West, Shenandoah, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review and others. He is now working on two other books: one is a book of longer poems of five to 12 pages each, and one is more thematic, a sequence of poems spoken by gods and goddesses that Mock is calling “American Pantheon.”

Although Mock remembers hating to write poems in second grade, he says he’s been a poet for most of his life. He explains, “writers have to write – it’s like an obsession. We don’t have a choice. That need to make something – we all have it, and we each find the outlet that serves us best. I think like a poet more than like a fiction writer.”

Thinking like a poet, Mock says, involves putting into words those images or moments that “strike us and stick around. Writers put words to those things and see what happens.

Seeing where it goes, finding out what happens, writing to find something out. Things can become clearer in the writing.”

He quotes a line from poet Robert Frost’s essay “The Figure A Poem Makes”: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” That little surprise in a poem, Mock says, “is what brings a story alive.”

Mock, who has been at Southern since the fall of 1998, teaches undergraduate and graduate poetry courses. He came to Southern from The Gettysburg Review, where he spent seven years as assistant editor.

A co-director of the Creative Writing Program with English Professor Tim Parrish, Mock worked with Parrish to create the English Department’s new Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program. He credits his colleagues Robin Troy, assistant professor of English, and CSU Professor Vivian Shipley for their help in developing the program as well.

Mock gave a reading from his new book at the university on April 15, along with writer Steve Almond, best-selling author of the books “Candyfreak,” “My Life in Heavy Metal” and The Evil B.B. Chow,” among others.

 

 

Southern’s second terminal degree program is the first of its kind in the state

Writers and poets with a drive to learn more about their craft, and to do it within a community of other writers, now have a home at Southern. On Sept. 17, the state Board of Governors for Higher Education approved a new degree program at the university: a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, only the second terminal degree to be offered by the university and the first full-residency M.F.A. program in the state.

The English Department has long offered the M.A. and M.S. with creative writing option; the M.F.A. will replace these degree options. The primary difference between these degrees and the M.F.A. is that the latter is the terminal degree in the field of creative writing. A more rigorous program than that leading to the M.A. or M.S., the M.F.A. is essentially the equivalent of the Ph.D. in its field, preparing students to become published writers and to seek jobs as university-level writing instructors. Southern’s M.F.A. joins the Ed.D. program as one of the university’s two terminal degree programs.

Left to right: Vivian Shipley, Tim Parrish, Robin Troy, Jeff Mock

“The M.F.A. offers a different level of professionalism, with different expectations,” says English Professor Tim Parrish, one of the architects of the new program. “In the abstract, M.F.A.s prepare people to be flexible thinkers, great written communicators and facilitators in groups,” he says, “but personal enrichment is really the draw. Students get to be part of a serious community of writers.”

English Professor Jeff Mock, who worked with Parrish on developing the proposal for the M.F.A., agrees. “We’ve had a wonderful writing community here,” he says, “but it’ll be a major difference to have these students here for this specific purpose.”

The creative writing faculty, which includes CSU Professor Vivian Shipley and Assistant Professor of English Robin Troy, along with Parrish and Mock, say that there has long been a need in Connecticut for a full-time M.F.A. program in creative writing. Western Connecticut State University offers a low-residency M.F.A. in professional writing, and Fairfield University recently added a low-residency M.F.A. program in creative writing. Low-residency programs allow students to do most of their coursework online, with only occasional visits to campus.

“With an online degree program, one misses the presence of a human community and the opportunities for personal interaction,” Shipley says. Southern’s is an on-site program, which, the faculty say, will give students a sense of common purpose and enable them to develop close friendships and working partnerships. And, as Troy points out, “People from Connecticut will have the opportunity to complete this degree without leaving the state.”

The new program is an exciting development within an already vibrant department. With flourishing undergraduate and graduate literary publications, award-winning faculty members and a visiting writers series, the department is well prepared to offer the high level of literary activity expected in an M.F.A. program. Michael Shea, English department chairman, says, “The creative writing program has a long history of great teachers and courses, and the M.F.A. program is a culmination of this tradition of excellence.” Shipley, who has been a member of the faculty since 1969, says the M.F.A.’s approval “is the most exciting thing to happen in this department since I got here.” She calls her colleagues — Parrish, Mock and Troy – “miracle workers” for what she sees as their success in bringing their collective vision for the M.F.A. program to fruition.

Parrish says that the creative writing program has been steadily evolving and that the M.F.A. is the natural next step. He points to the accomplishments of Southern’s creative writing students — publications, prizes, fellowships and acceptances to demanding M.F.A. programs around the country – as evidence that the university attracts serious writing students and supports them in their craft.

The curriculum for the 48-credit program will be based in literary studies, consisting in fiction and poetry workshops, literature and theory courses and the thesis. Currently, the M.A. and M.S. curricula allow up to 18 credits of fiction or poetry workshops and six credits of creative-thesis work. The M.F.A. will retain these opportunities while increasing course requirements in literature studies, the study of rhetoric and theory and the teaching of high school and college writing. The core of the program will be the workshop, a class in which students submit their original manuscripts-in-progress for critical examination by their classmates and the instructor.

Admission to the M.F.A. program is competitive, with roughly six poets and six fiction writers admitted each year. The deadline for applications is March 1. The creative writing faculty expect that the M.F.A. will attract prospective students from out-of-state as well as from within Connecticut, due to the increasing national competition to gain admission to residential programs.

Parrish expresses his appreciation for the support of President Cheryl Norton; Selase Williams, provost and vice president for academic affairs; DonnaJean Fredeen, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences; Sandra Holley, dean of the School of Graduate Studies; Kenneth Florey, professor of English and the English Department’s graduate coordinator; Robert McEachern, professor of English; Marianne Kennedy, associate vice president for assessment, planning and academic programs, Scott Ellis, associate professor of English, and the English Department.

 

Tim Parrish recalls being in a Baton Rouge, La., department store with his mother one day during the racially tense ‘60s. A young child at the time, Parrish innocently used a racial epithet to describe an African American fellow shopper.

“I heard my parents use this word all the time at home and didn’t know there was anything wrong about it,” Parrish says, but his mother reacted with horror to his use of the word in a public place. Her shocked response made Parrish realize for the first time that “something was being hidden in my house. People had shame about their prejudices, but they didn’t try to remedy them.”

Everything about Baton Rouge is a paradox, says Parrish, an assistant professor of English who recently published a collection of short stories, Red Stick Men. The stories are set in Baton Rouge—which natives call “Red Stick,” the English translation of its name—and reveal a strong sense of the place.

Tim Parrish

The “red stick” for which the city is named was actually a cypress tree, discovered by 17th-century European settlers, that Native Americans had smeared with blood to mark a tribal boundary. While Baton Rouge’s white natives have mythologized the red stick and its historical roots, Parrish says that ironically they are reluctant now to visit the site of the original red stick, whose location is now part of the campus of the largely African American Southern University.

Parrish’s intent in writing the stories in Red Stick Men was “to demythologize Baton Rouge, to be true to the place.” Although Baton Rouge shows up in many songs because of its romantic French name, Parrish describes his hometown as “a somewhat surreal place,” with the glow from chemical plants and oil refineries lighting up the sky.

The characters in his stories, far from fitting into hackneyed romantic Southern stereotypes, are gritty blue-collar folks who work on oil rigs, as exterminators or in pipe factories. Critics have praised Parrish, the director of Southern’s creative writing program, for his ability to bring his characters to life and to show another, more realistic side of Baton Rouge.

“I have a love/hate relationship with Baton Rouge,” Parrish says of the city he lived in for 27 years. “The love comes from family and a real connection to the place that made me. The hate comes from the fact that I grew up in a very racist environment. It caused a lot of turmoil.”

Parrish was raised on the industrial side of town in a family of natural storytellers. He credits his parents and his brother especially as influences on his yarn-spinning abilities. In his fiction Parrish also draws on his own experiences as a roustabout on an oil rig, a chemical plant worker and a counter man at a post office in a hardware store.

Baton Rouge “has a full nelson on my imagination,” says Parrish, explaining why he writes about his hometown. “Every time I go back there, something about the melange of trouble and fun and conservatism and hedonism and creativity and lethargy inspires me to try and capture it.”