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Author Q&A: Allegra Hyde

Allegra Hyde is the author of the story collection, Of This New World, which won the 2016 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. She has received two Pushcart Prizes, as well as fellowships and grants from The Elizabeth George Foundation, the Lucas Artist Residency Program, The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and the U.S. Fulbright Commission. For more about Allegra, visit www.allegrahyde.com.

TBL Author Q&A Series: Allegra Hyde

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

What started your writing career? Was there a certain event or person that guided you toward your own literary path?

I took my first creative writing class as an undergraduate at Williams College. The class was led by Jim Shepard, whose wit and insight inspired me to continue writing. That said, growing up, my mother—a librarian—always made sure that I had plenty of books to read, which instilled me with a love of literature from an early age.

Speaking of influential people, who are your literary heroes and how have they inspired you?

It’s hard to designate definitive heroes because my tastes and interests continue to evolve. But recently I read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and was deeply moved by her ability to find hope in a bleak vision of Post-apocalyptic America. I also admire Rachel Kushner’s lush and often history-laced prose. And last week I had the honor of hearing Jennifer Haigh speak and was dazzled by her description of a life dedicated to writing.

You are an instructor for the Inprint Writers Workshops and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. How have these experiences impacted your writing? Do you think you’re a writer first and a teacher second?

I’m definitely a writer first, but I do draw a lot of energy from teaching—I actually think of it as collaboration, more than teaching. Teaching writing isn’t so much about delivering knowledge as it is about helping a person communicate his or her story. And, because I want to be a teacher for as wide a variety of students as possible, this pushes me to explore unfamiliar genres and texts, which infuse my own work.

You also offer manuscript consultations through your website. Are there any big mistakes you see on a regular basis? What advice would you give our readers to avoid such mistakes?

I love doing this kind of developmental editing, especially with writers who don’t have access to MFA programs or writing workshops. When doing this work, one of the things I often suggest is that writers trim their dialogue. This usually helps a story move faster without sacrificing narrative. On this subject, I would recommend trying to write dialogue that gives the impression of a conversation, rather than dialogue that reads like a transcription.

What would you say is the most important element for crafting a story, or for discovering a new mode of creativity?

I’m a big believer in syntax and the energetic potential of individual sentences. I think it’s important for syntax to emerge in tandem with plot and character, because that’s where the DNA of a story resides.

Overall, what themes do you like to explore in your work? Have they changed over time?

I’ve been obsessed with utopias since I was seventeen. That theme has been consistent in my work, but the approaches I’ve taken have evolved over time. I’ve moved from writing voice-driven individual narratives to stories seeking to engage broader social issues.

Last year, you released Of This New World, a collection of short stories that won the 2016 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. What can you tell us about the publication process?

Because the story collection won the John Simmons award, the publication process was a little nontraditional. Essentially, I submitted the manuscript to the University of Iowa Press expecting nothing to come of it. Then I received the surreal phone call telling me the collection would be published. After that, I worked with the press and on my own to promote the book and bring it into the world.

What is your favorite story from Of This New World? Why is it your favorite?

Picking favorite stories is like picking a favorite child—I must decline to comment. I can’t risk my stories finding out.

Your stories often give readers an honest, unflinching look at struggling relationships in vivid settings. What is your process for developing these characters and their worlds?

The stories have emerged in a variety of ways. “The Future Consequences of Present Actions” took many months of research and revision. The characters were based on actual historical figures, and writing it required a mix of research and imagination. However, a story like “Bury Me” came out in a much more fluid, dreamlike way and required little revision, perhaps because the piece was somewhat rooted in lived experience.

You are very active in the writing community. At times, this can require a lot of travel. Do you think it’s important for new writers to travel, assuming they are able to do so? Has travel enhanced or changed your writing process?

It’s hard for me to write while I’m traveling, but at the same time, I consider travel an essential part of my writing career. I find it very stimulating to visit new places and will often incorporate setting where I’ve traveled into my work. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to connect with writers and readers all over the world.

After having successfully accomplished so much, what are your goals? What direction do you see your writing taking now, in terms of both craft and publication?

I’m an ambitious person, so there is a lot I’d like to accomplish. Right now I’m working on my first novel, which is a big shift from writing short stories. I’m embracing the chance to grow as a writer, however, and to hopefully produce literature that inspires conversation as much as it entertains.

What general guidance would you give to new writers?

Keep a pen in your pocket—but make sure the cap is on, otherwise you’ll ruin your pants. Learn how to listen. Ask questions of others and of yourself. Recognize that what it means to be a writer will continually evolve, but essentially, our task is to connect with other people through language.

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