Danielle Evans Reading
On the night of Jan. 31, Santa Fe University of Art and Design’s O’Shaughnessy Performance Space hosted a reading by Danielle Evans, the Creative Writing and Literature Department’s spring visiting writer. Last week, Jackalope Magazine spoke with Evans in an illuminating interview about her technique and writing process. She arrived on campus Monday morning and promptly proved to be a valuable source of insight as she openly answered questions students had during classroom visits and a small luncheon on Wednesday afternoon.
The reading felt intimate as the lights dimmed and the audience greeted Evans with enthusiasm. As Evans took the podium, she explained she’d be reading a “new-ish” piece, “Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain,” which was published in the 25th anniversary issue of American Short Fiction. She breezed through the reading, keeping the audience attentive throughout as she told a story about a relationship between two friends.
Rena, a photographer, is attending her friend’s wedding and facing her own wounds and emotional history as the wedding crumbles around them. Including vivid scene with moments of humor and reflection slipped between, Evans’ story plays with emotional timing and the reveal of significant plot points. There are lines that speak to the different head spaces that the characters are in at different times–the weighty realization, “sleeping in someone else’s bed doesn’t stop the nightmares” sticks out as an important instance of understanding the character. Evans’ ability to touch on a wide, sometimes contradictory range of human emotion within her characters is part of what makes her work so enjoyable to settle into. As the story continues, the feelings between the two friends are treated as the most meaningful part of the story, closing in a way that simultaneously feels like and ending and beginning.
After the reading, Evans admitted she’s had trouble with “happy endings,” which brought the audience to laugh and ask her about her experience while writing the story. She said she fought with this particular piece in terms of trying to finish it. As she usually tries to finish the first draft before editing, she wasn’t sure which half of this story was going to be the beginning. As the story started to take form, she realized that the relationship between the two women grew into something more important than the other aspects.
When asked about what writers she’s inspired by, she answered with Alice Monroe, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz and Margaret Atwood. “In terms of thinking about context and theme, I think a lot about Toni Morrison about Margaret Atwood, about people who write in really interesting and unapologetic ways about women, about people who think about the space between the sort of larger questions the world is asking us and the more immediate questions we’re asked in our daily lives,” Evans says.
With Morrison, she talked about how she’s been inspired to play with structure. “It’s really easy to love character and plot, it’s what pulls many of us into being readers. It’s harder to learn to love structure because usually that’s the thing we’re sort of covering up. We’re glad something’s holding up this building. We might not love it as much as the art on the walls, but there are writers who can somehow make that structure a work of art, so I’m interested in that,” Evans says.
Evans was candid with students throughout the week when discussing how her writing has changed since when she initially wrote her collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Though the collection focuses intensely on coming-of-age stories, in a very genuine sense, Evans has since moved on from adolescence in her short fiction. She said the “emotional pressure” is different in and out of adolescence. She spoke about the novel she’s currently writing, which has high-school-age characters, and explained that moving away from adolescence in her short fiction gave her a break from the space she must write in while working on her novel.
With the Q&A coming to an close, the bunch migrates to the Benildus Hall lobby where Evans signs copies of her short story collection, ending a night of emotive reading and conscious craft discussion.