NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH at Housing Works

1. Proud parents: Wells Tower & Amy Hempel. 2. The scene: Housing Works Bookstore & Cafe, fighting AIDS one book at a time.

In case you’re like me, maybe you have been inside Housing Works Bookstore & Café and looked around and thought it was a pretty cool place, but perhaps you were unaware of how cool Housing Works actually is. Besides having a nice atmosphere, good selection, and tasty little café, the shop is dedicated to helping out homeless New Yorkers who are living with HIV and AIDS. And when I say dedicated, I mean dedicated: the entire stock is donations and the staff is all volunteer. So, as events coordinator Rachel Fershleiser said, you can come here and drink six or seven beers all in good conscience, knowing that you have done a good deed and are fighting AIDS.

1. Brooklyn College MFAers and all current and/or past students of Amy Hempel’s, Joanna, Heidi, Jenny & Jonas, discussing where to go to get tequilas-and-creams after the reading. 2. Emily Parliman and Avery Finch, who both work for Workman Publishing.

Besides running a kick-ass store, they also have awesome events. Last night’s was a celebration of the publication of the 25th anniversary of the New Stories From the South anthology. This year’s edition was edited by Amy Hempel, who was there to ring in the publication, along with contributor Wells Tower. Hempel read a story by contributor Danielle Evans, in which a lie involving a Miley Cyrus-type pop star and war spins wildly out of control. Tower read the third edition of “Retreat,” and then the pair answered audience questions. Hempel explained her relationship to the South: she’s not from there, but she goes there often and feels a deep kinship for it. Many of her closest friends are from the South, and she often picks up their accents within a few minutes of spending time with them.

1. Maura, Kayla, Jenny, & Gabe, all students at the MFA in Fiction program at NYU. Jenny was particularly impressed with Amy’s hair (but then again, who isn’t?)

Tower (who, by the way, is a lot more handsome IRL than in his author photo) explained his revision process, which he described as “zany”, and said that oftentimes he won’t even look at a first draft when revising it. Because of this, sometimes very little of the original story will survive. For instance, a character might reappear in a different role. “Retreat” has seen three major revisions; the first and the third were both famously published in McSweeney’s, and the second was published in his collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. The difference between the three: the first was told from the younger brother’s perspective and had, according to him, an “emotional poverty,” the second was from the older brother’s point of view, and had “greater narrative generosity.” The third was also from the older brother, but was much nastier and had more cuss words — and it was also very, very funny. Tower’s humor, humble without becoming self-deprecating, subtle and smart and not just there for the sake of cheap laughs, is not only present in his fiction, it’s also clearly evident in person.

–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.

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