Exclusive Essay
Long before I ever heard of such literary giants as Faulkner and Joyce who would someday influence my writing as an adult, I encountered a book called, Go, Dog. Go!, by P.D. Eastman. The bold imagery of, "Green dog on a yellow tree," the poetic resonance of, "Now it is night. Night is not a time for play," and the pulse-pounding climax of, "A dog party! A big dog party!" hooked me for life. It was the first book I read all by myself. I was four years old, and it cemented my love of reading.

When I was six years old I read my first Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach, during summer vacation while sitting in a swing in my Great Aunt Zo's back yard. I felt I had found a kindred spirit: someone who saw the world as an absurd, often cruel, but somehow sweetly hopeful place. I read all of his books and felt inspired to write. By the time I was eight I'd written a stack of my own short stories.

When I was ten, To Kill a Mockingbird changed me forever. I read it four times in a row, unwilling and unable to leave the characters and that place. Harper Lee started a lifelong love of southern writers for me: Truman Capote, William Styron, Carson McCullers, William Faulkner and probably the author I admire most, Flannery O'Connor.

The southern writer's strong love of place and language and legacy is something I share.

In high school and college I discovered J.D. Salinger, Nathaniel West, and James Joyce who, along with Flannery O'Connor, are the authors who have had the most impact on what I try to bring to my own writing.

The Catcher in the Rye, The Day of the Locust, The Dubliners, and A Good Man is Hard to Find are novels and short story collections I reread almost every year.

What all four of these authors do brilliantly is bring significance to the insignificant. They take misfits and regular folk and make them intriguing. They take trivial, everyday actions and make them important. They take the most unpleasant character and make him someone a reader can understand even if the reader can never excuse him.


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