Clemson Fiction Reading Series, 2002-2003
Report by Sissy McKee
On Monday, October 28, the Clemson Fiction Reading Series hosted fiction writer Brock Clarke and poet Vivian Shipley at Loose Change Wine and Bar. The South Carolina Arts Commission, Clemson's English department and the Center for Electronic and Digital Publishing for the university's digital press graciously sponsored this event of the Clemson Fiction Reading Series.
Vivian Shipley is the first writer to be sponsored in the name of The South Carolina Review. Clemson professor and South Carolina Review editor Wayne Chapman introduced Shipley, quoting Sydney Lea's description of her as, "among her many distinctions, one of America's truly eminent poets of family." Shipley's poetry has an authentic folk-like style that creates wonderful stories. Raised on a farm in Kentucky, her regional humor was warmly accepted by a packed house at Loose Change. Her road to poetic brilliance is an interesting story to tell. Before she began writing poetry, Shipley was diagnosed with a brain tumor larger than a baseball, which required serious surgery to remove. During her six months of hospitalization, Shipley began writing poetry, then more and more poetry. Her dealing with themes of family and the ironies, humor and tough realities of life has made her poetry boom with the critics and readers. Shipley explained the philosophy of her writing, "I like the idea of different pieces of our lives stitched together." "Star" is a humorous recollection of her experience being elected homecoming queen when the first runner up was crowned by accident during her undergraduate years at the University of Kentucky. Ten books later and over 40 awards, Shipley has made her mark on the literary world since 1994. Her latest book, When There is No Shore has been awarded the 2002 Word Press Poetry Award. Her collection Fair Haven (2000) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. During its two short years, Fair Haven alone has won seven awards. She not only pours out poetry, but also edits The Connecticut Review, a bi-annual publication featuring poetry, prose and art, that has won several prizes for excellence. Shipley has made herself a definite literary figure for our generation.
Former Clemson professor, Brock Clarke returned to read from his second publication, a short-story collection entitled What We Won't Do. Last year, Clarke was a featured author in the fiction series and read from his novel Ordinary White Boy. Clarke's humor and wit have earned him much praise, and critics are holding their sides over What We Won't Do. Clarke has a kind wisdom and the ability to make funny the darker side of human nature. He reminds us about self-discovery and the trials and errors that get us there. Keith Morris described Clarke as a "kind, generous soul." Clarke read "Specify the Learners." This story kept the crowd laughing at the 33-year-old protagonist, a man who decides to return to sixth grade to remedy his failed marriage and boring job at the local paper mill. A New York native, Clarke received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Rochester. His recent collection What We Won't Do was selected as the winner of the prestigious 2000 McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. (From this collection, the story "Up North" was first published in The South Carolina Review in the Spring 1999 issue. Clarke was Morris's immediate predecessor as associate editor for fiction at Clemson.) Other awards have been conferred on Clarke by the Sewanee Writer's Conference, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the New York State Writers' Institute. He currently teaches fiction writing at the University of Cincinnati.
Keith Morris also introduced Molly Knight, whom he called a "prodigy." A Spartanburg native, Knight had her first poem published by The South Carolina Review at 16. (See "My Brother," Ireland in the Arts and Humanities, 1899-1999: SCR 32.1 [fall 1999]: 211.) Now, at 19, she is pursuing her talent in Clemson's English Department. Her short story "Hot Now" is a peek into the mind of a college female that deeply examines the ironies and questions of the upper-middle-class college experience raised over a doughnut.