An Interview with Dorothy Allison


This interview was conducted as part of the annual Zale Writer in Residence Program at the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women at Tulane University in November 1995. This year the program committee had invited award-winning novelist Dorothy Allison, who is most famous for her novel Bastard Out of Carolina, to be the Zale Writer-in-Residence. Dorothy Allison's work is securely located on the borders of southern and working-class literature, with deep roots in feminist and lesbian-feminist activism and politics.
Dorothy Allison is the author five books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction and the winner of numerous literary awards. She grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and Florida and now lives with her partner, son, and dogs in northern California.
This interview was conducted by Susanne Dietzel, a Visiting Scholar at the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women and doctoral candidate in American Studies and Feminist Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at Tulane University.

This interview was transcribed by Kelly Donald and Michelle Attebury, and (only slightly) edited by Susanne Dietzel.

Susanne Dietzel- Dorothy Allison is an award-winning poet, novelist, and essayist. She is also an activist in feminist and lesbian feminist politics and, later on I want to talk a little bit about the connection between writing and politics. She has published five books, the first was a collection of short stories called TRASH came out in 1989. Her second book is a collection of poetry called THE WOMEN WHO HATE ME, poems 1980-1990 that came out in 1991. Dorothy Allison is most famous for her novel BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, which came out in 1992, and won the Lambda Award, and was nominated for the National Book Award. She followed that one up with her absolutley wonderful collection of essays called SKIN that was published by Firebrand Books in 1994 and here is her newest book, called TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW FOR SURE, which is a memoir about fictional and real families coming to terms with each other and with their history. Dorothy Allison grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and Florida and now lives in Northern California with her partner, child and dogs.

Susanne Dietzel- What I find most striking about your writing is your brutal, but loving honesty. As a reader, you just come to love, but also hate your characters. Your fiction then is to some extent relentless, because you take your reader right into those experiences. But again, I kept coming back to the themes of honesty and love that I think are really the foundation of your writing.

Dorothy Allison- I have a theory about writing fiction. I often run into young writers who ask me the question "How can you tell those terrible stories about people? How can you make them seem almost real, or liveable or loveable?" And my theory is that if you create a character and if you tell enough about that character, even if you are creating someone who is a villain or someone who does terrible things, if you tell enough about them, then you have the possibility of loving them. And that if you tell enough about a character, even if you use a character based on people you know, you don't create an act of betrayal. It is when you use characters in small ways that you betray them. The key is to make the portrait as full as possible and it is not possible if you lie. It is not possible if you try to hide. And the thing that writers hide is themselves. I don't belive you can be any good as a writer if you're trying to hide yourself. So, I get told a lot that I'm brutally honest. I essentially think that I want to do it right, and I don't believe that you can if you try to shave off any margin of safety. If you're trying to be safe, you got no business writing. If you're trying to control what happens, you really don't have a whole lot of chance. The only thing you can control is to create as full a portrait as possible. Then you can make people seem human. But you don't really get any safety in that. And you don't get to lie - except of course that you are telling great lies.

Susanne Dietzel- Storytelling has always been characteristic of southern literature and your work is no exception to that. Storytelling is also characteristic of your home community and your family and they obviously passed this on to you. In your essays, for example, you mention that you were always an avid reader as a child, but even more so you were always also a story teller who would entertain cousins and sisters. At the same time, it was difficult to put pen to paper and write something you considered publishable, something you wanted to share with readers. How did you eventually make the transition from storyteller to writer?

Dorothy Allison- A lot of women are storytellers, but we never make the transition to becoming a writer. It is easy to be an entertainer as a woman. It is easy to tell stories to charm people. But mostly we believe our stories aren't worth anything, that our stories aren't important, and that if they are important, they're dangerous, and therefore too dangerous to tell anyone. The only way I ever began to write was because there was a women's movement. If there had not been a women's liberation movement in the early 70's, I would not only have not started writing. I would not be alive. Because the women's movement was the place that told me my life was not small. That I was not contemptable. That women's lives are not contemptable. That I was in fact important. There had not been anything like that before. I became a kind of quasi-Marxist when I went to college because it was the only place anyone would tell me anything that I found of use about especially being poor in the South. I'm like "Give me a revolution. Cut off people's heads!" You could become a Marxist real easy if you have grown up feeling hated and hateful. It did not give me the possibility of loving people or, I came to the women's movement like it was a religion. I took on feminism like it was Jesus. And I was raised Baptist. I would have become an evangelical feminist and, in a way, I did, except that I had been raised to be the kind of Baptist who's going to be a soldier for the Lord and cook things and be quiet. So I cooked things, was quiet, published magazines, did that background organizing, excuse me shit work, that we all do to make things happen, when you stuff envelopes and scrub walls and take care of children, when you don't even got any of your own and don't plan on having any. And it was, in a way, the equivalent for me of the church. It saved my life. It told me you are imporatant, it kept me alive long enough to give me the notion that I could actually do something with my life, and that it healed me enough so that I could begin to write stories. And I think this is vital. You need Jesus in your life, and whether Jesus is the women's movement or Buddhism, I don't care. You have to have a place where you believe your life is important, where you can do something and where you are loved. And the women's movement in 1973 became that for me.

Susanne Dietzel- This brings me to the connection between writing and activism, particularly the notion that within the feminist movement literature and other kinds of writing are political and fulfill a certain political and activist purpose. We have already talked about how your activism has brought you to writing, and has given you the voice to speak about your experiences. Now, please tell us a little how your activism in the feminist movement and in the lesbian movement has shaped your vision as an artist, how it might have given you themes or has opened up avenues for you to write about and things to explore.

Dorothy Allison- You better think twice about this issue of politics and literature and the encouragement of writing through feminist literature , because it is not an unmixed bag. What I learned as a writer from other feminist writers, in particular through writers I found through the women's movement, was an ideal of fiction. Marge Piercy's poetry shaped a lot of my concepts of what I could do. Tony Morrison's novel, THE BLUEST EYE, gave me something I could aim for and the concept that you could write about incest and violent families and do so in a loving way. Lisa Alder gave me the idea that you could be a lesbian, be a writer, be funny and not be dead. There was an enormous body of feminist literature that I breathed in like chicken soup. It gave me something to aim at, it gave me a standard. But then the Women's Movement also creates a problem for fiction writers. And that is basically that there is so much wrong with the world that you want to change immediately that it can lead you to become a preacher. And preachers are not good writers. Sloganeers are not good writers. So feminism can save you and it can give you the notion to write really badly for small change. To write for large change, it seems to me, is to write well. But that means that you can't do it simply. There is a huge body of feminist literature, some of which is marvelous, a lot of which is pretty bad. And if you model on it, you're in trouble. So when I teach, I go for the best feminist literature I can find. I make them read Toni Morrison. I make them read writers who lifted me right out of my body. That's great writing. And it is also wonderful when you can find feminist writing that gives you a little bit of your real life back. You know, you see yourself as a young woman in college, or you see yourself as a working class kid trying to get a scholarship. Or you see yourself as a lesbian in the world. What you need to be a good writer is a witness who will tell you when this book is good because she's writing about real life. And sometimes as feminists, we don't make that distinction. We take everything as equally useful. And I'm a child of that part of the movement. I can remember being a writer who would not edit young women's stories, because I did not want to hurt their voice. We had about a decade of that. We heard a lot of women's voices by not editing. We heard a lot more women's writers by not demanding more of them.

Susanne Dietzel- Fiction always serves a function, particularly in the communities for which it is written. What do you want your writing to do?

Dorothy Allison- I want my writing to break down small categories. The whole idea in Bastard Out of Carolina was to give you a working class family that had all the flaws, but to also give you the notion of real people and not of caricatures. A lot of working-class fiction or psedo-working-class fiction gives you dismissive caricatures, people who drink and whore and kill each other and are funny about it. I wanted my characters to be charming, so charming they wake you up in the night. That, for me, is political fiction. It takes you out of yourself, it makes you brood on it, it makes you worry about what happens after the book is over. It makes you want to argue with these women and talk to the men.

Susanne Dietzel- One of the themes that shapes your work is that you are writing against misrepresentations, particularly of working-class women, queers, and poor people in general. That, I think, is something you have learned from feminism. Breaking down misrepresentations and infusing the genre with, for example, brutal honesty has added a lot to working-class literature. Unlike Victorian working-class fiction, you refuse to romanticize the working-class heroine -- make her into the angel of the home. Similarly, unlike proletarian writing of the Thirties, you refuse to idealize your characters -- make them larger and more noble than life, elevating them to the vanguard of the coming revolution.

Dorothy Allison- This is contempt in reverse and I find that appalling. We tend to forget the fact that a lot of black writers are working class. I wanted to show a lot of what has been done to the black novel has been done to the working class novel, which is basically that kind of romanticized, generic, trivializing nonsense. No, I think that is also one of the things that hurt me a great deal as a child, where you encountered this romantic notion, "Oh, they're ragged, but they're clean!". Because you know, we weren't always clean and you could get seriously depressed about yourself if you did not even meet the romanticized notion.

Susanne Dietzel- You also write about how exactly these representations of the working class and of lesbians and of women can kill. And one of the things you want to do is to keep, I guess, keep each other from killing each other with language. That's why you write so lovingly still about your people.

Susanne Dietzel- Women are central to your writing, your artistic vision, and central to who you are. First and foremost, there is your mother and your sisters and the other women in your family. But then there is also the Women's Movement, the lesbian community in particular, and other women writers that you have worked and studied with. So, please tell me about the influence of women on who you are as a person and who you are as a writer.

Dorothy Allison- I don't know any southern writer who doesn't begin with momma. You know, she's like the air you breathe and it's a little dangerous because in fact there is this concept of the southern mother in literature. To get serious attention is to give a kind of reverence, you have to write against the stereotype. And the stereotype is frightening. The stereotype is inhuman. The stereotype IS the mother who starves herself to feed her children, you know. And then the other stereotype is the mother who eats her children alive if they do not quite measure up to what she wants them to be. And you're always caught up between those two things if you're a southern writer, particularly, I believe, for the working-class southern writers because our stereotypes are even more deadly. We don't quite have the belle. Working-class women don't usually meld into the southern belle ideal, so we don't have to work so hard to write against it, except when we're dealing with Yankees who don't know the difference between working class, middle class, and upper class in the South, and I don't have the time or energy to convince somebody of this. But you are writing against what is basically the two-fisted, dangerous southern mother. If you break outside of that barrier, you get a lot of tension because people are so startled if you write something different. And then you gotta survive your mother, reading it. It seemed to me that especially in my twenties, I was writing for my mother, and I was writing stories directed at her, and having conversations with her in fiction that I could not have with her in person. This is not nice stuff. Writers do mean things in the construction of a body of work and one of the things you do as a writer is you write about your obsessions and your terrors and your hatreds. And your mother is going to be central. Or your daddy. I wrote stories directed at my mother during the period when I started to get angry at her. And I began to realize that I would have been healthier if I had gotten angry at her earlier, like a decade earlier than when I began to admit I was angry at her. So a lot of the stories I wrote in Trash are largely aimed at my mother, and those are very mean stories. There's not a lot of compassion there, but a lot of hurt, outrage, and some deliberate cruelty. For example, I never told my mother in person that I was sterile. I told her in a short story. You know I gotta make up for that for the rest of my life. Yeah, momma's an audience for a lot of my work. And it is not going to be as simple as you would like it to be, or as clean. It will get dirty, it will get extremely complicated. And then there's girlfriends. I don't know about you, but a lot of my girlfriends have been my stepfather. A lot of my girlfriends have been my uncles, some of whom were truly wonderful men, but not marrying types. I'm a lesbian and I had to find out the hard way that it was possible to make really bad choices as a lesbian. So a lot of my work is aimed at that because I felt like no one had given me that story. That I had grown up in a Women's Movement that told me that the essential act of the lesbian writer was to make peace with your mother and that lesbianism will save you. Come on! How many people in here have been saved by love? Or how many people beleived you would be saved by love? If you continue writing, because there is a difference between beginning writing and continue writing, you will eventually be writing against the messages you have been given that did you no good, and then you will be writing against the messages that did you harm. I have been writing all my life against the romanticization of the lesbian, and the romanticization of the survivor. I believe there is use in it. Some of that romantic stuff helps. But only if it is placed in a very real context. Only if you don't make people eat themselves up alive trying to be something that is almost impossible to be.

Susanne Dietzel- Your collection of poetry, THE WOMEN WHO HATE ME, I believe, comes exactly out of the experience you have just described. The late seveties and eighties were contentious decades in feminism and you were right in the middle of these debates with your participation in the Barnard Conference, "Towards a Politics of Sexuality." What was your role in these debates, and how did this shape your artistic vision and subsequent work?

Dorothy Allison- THE WOMEN WHO HATE ME is a series of poems most of which were written in 1982, and the summer of 1981-1983. First, the book was published in 1983, the first edition. Most of the poems were written following the Barnard Conference on sexuality in April, 1981. I was part of a panel there. The conference was designed to look at a complicated notion of sexuality and the whole design was about pleasure and danger, so they wanted to talk about all of the harm and the danger that exists around sexual issues for women. And they also wanted to talk about why sex and sexuality could be a source of power, authority and pleasure. Well, this was also 1981 and that was exactly the part of the discussion that was not supposed to be happening. When the Women's movement was essentially, the ---- was the anti-pornography movement. And it was not simply that there was a ---- of notions of what you were supposed to be saying about porn or anti-porn or any of that. The dominant notion was that we can't take care of all that until we take of this problem. Therefore, we can't talk about lesbian relationships, or incest. Everybody's gonna have to refrain from enjoying sexuality or women's pursuit of sexual pleasure, or heterosexual women teaching heterosexual men how to actually make them have an orgasm. We can't talk about any of that until we stop pornography and stop violence against women. These are the only two subjects we can discuss about sexuality. That's what happened at the Barnard Conference because the conference opened a whole range of discussion and the New York chapter of Women Against Pornography picketed. Not only did they picket, they published leaflets which named eight of us as being essentially anti-feminist terrorists. Not only did they distribute leaflets with our names and adresses and phone numbers up and down Broadway, they called each of us, the people we worked for and reported our various deviations in an attempt to get us fired. They called the University's development committee, you guys got a university, you know what happens when all of a sudden what is the equivilent to a Christian riot walks in a says "------all these lesbians and perverts and child sexual molesters over there talking". The day the conference happened, the program for the conference was confiscated and burned by the university officials, because they had some many interesting phone calls the week before. It turned into a nightmare. I know people who lost their lives because of that conference. A lot of people lost their jobs. Plenty of people had nervous breakdowns, left town, disappeared. I wrote poems. I wrote a series of poems. I left my lover, I stopped having sex, I went home and told my mother I want a real mastectomy, so then I wrote another series of poems. The book is largely about that. And a lot of us lost our religion. Jesus had turned out to be not what we thought he was. The Women's Movement was not the safe place we imagined it to be. Open discussion was not the rule as we had imagined. A lot of us had to hold back, hold ourselves up, and think very seriously about what we had been doing. It wasn't so easy as to say, "Y'know, I got the answer. I'm a feminist. I'm going to change the world. It is very simple." It ain't simple. And it is extremely complicated for working class women, because we tended to be the ones whose sexuality was not as --- as a lot of the middle class women who were at that conference, and who were perfectly willing to say, oh we'll wait. We'll do anti-porn first. But as a working class lesbian, the one thing you learn is that if you don't kill yourself, you do not drink yourself to death, if you do not find a girlfriend who will literally bash your head in, if you survive, one of the things you learn is that sexuality is the place where you cannot compromise, because it is so dangerous. That you can't always just talk about the bad side, you have to go over and find out why, why if sex is so dangerous, you're still gonna look for the one who can do it right for you. So, the poem THE WOMEN WHO HATE ME is essentially aimed at the women I couldn't speak at, couldn't speak to at the Barnard Conference because they were screaming at me. And it starts out,

The women who do not know me.

The women who, not knowing me, hate me

mark my life, rise in my dreams and shake out their loose hair throw out

their thin wrists, narrow their

already sharp eyes and say

Who do you think you are?

Lazy, useless, cunt sucking, scared and stupid

What you scared of anyway?

Their eyes, their hands, their voices.


Terrifying.

The women who hate me cut me

as men can't. Men don't count.

I can handle men. Never expected better

of any man anyway.

But the women,

shallow-cheeked young girls the world was made for

safe little girls who think nothing of bravado

who never got over by playing it tough.

What do they know of my fear?

What do they know of the women in my body?

My weakening hips, sharp good teeth,

angry nightmares, scarred cheeks,

fat thighs, fat everything.

(but the women who hate me cut me.)

Don't smile too wide. You look like a fool.

Don't want too much. You an't gonna get it.

Say goddamn it and kick somebody's ass

that I am not half what I should be,

full of terrified angry bravado


BRAVADO

The women who hate me

don't know

can't imagine

life-saving precious bravado.


The fight you have with the people that you need are the most intense.

Susanne Dietzel- Let's talk about the South. In Greenville, South Carolina, the home of your dreams and the home of your nightmares. You moved away from the south, you live in Northern California...

Dorothy Allison- Eudora Welty says that all writers are essentially assembled by the age of 15. That by the age of fifteen, you have your material. So it doesn't matter where you go after 15. You're already in place. Everything that happens after puberty will just end up reflecting on everything that happened up to the end of it. And you can go to New York and you can do all kinds of things, but you will dream southern, you will dream of the place you were when you were a girl. And will be talking to those people until you die.

Susanne Dietzel- Who was your audience? Who is your imagined audience, or your imagined readers as you write?

Dorothy Allison- When I'm writing I'm loving. I'm mostly writing to my family that includes the extended family of people that have kept me alive. Other women writers that I have been working with and have been working with for 20 years. My real physical families, some of whom don't entirely approve of me. When I'm writing angry, I'm writing at my step father's people. I'm writing at Greenville, cause y'know. You've been to Greenville. Ooooo...the medieval class structure of Greenville county is just. You got one here too though. Yeah...white gloves though, right? Yeah, those people are a gift. Those people are what every writer needs. Cause you know you can be having just a really rough day where nothing is happening that time when you're sitting in front of that blank piece of paper. All you have to do is close your eyes and remember Greenville and you have something to work at. The greatest gift a writer can have is to be treated hateful at an early age. Indignation is fuel. Christian outrage will get you where nothing else will. And even non-Christian outrage will take you quite a ways. Those people are my precious commodity and I have---them over. I'm not done either, I've barely touched on some of it.

Susanne Dietzel- Let's open it up to questions from the audience. I'm sure many of you have questions and I don't want to monopolize the conversation. . . . in the back?

----inaudible

da-Um. ok. I believe that you need, beginning writers need everything. They need bribes, if possible. Anything that will help a beginning writer is a good thing. The best thing in the wourld is a dictatorial teacher or someone who will really demand the story, so a structure that will make you start writing is the first thing a writer needs. For me, I became the editor of a feminist magazine and had to fill a magazine. That is a dictatorial structure, and it helped me a lot. But continuing writing, there's a point at which you will have told every...alright, now, one of your other theories in writing is that every writer has an essential story they need to tell. And every writer theoretically tells the same story over and over again. I actually do think some of that is true and I don't argue with it. I argue with the criticisms of it. There comes a point at which you will begin to write because of the push of that story and if you are lucky enough to get yourself into a position to where it is possible to begin to write, to tell that story you got a need to tell, you then step into the place where you are a continuing writer. And you have to build structures in your life to keep you sane. You have to build structures in your life to keep you from going bad, and there's a lot of ways for a writer to go bad. One is simply the idea of who a writer is in this society, and those of us who didn't grow up in those families where writers are supposed to come from, we take our notion of writing from the romance of writers. The romance of writers is they drink, they whore around, some of this is semi-true. Um, they tend to be self-destructive. There is a whole ideology of the self-destructive alcoholic, romantic writer. Y'know, taking drugs, staying up all night. Tennessee Williams in that motel, that's the romantic writer. Truman Capote doing cocaine until he falls over. That is the romantic writer. Continuing to write without falling into that self-destructive, dangerous romance, is something there is no support for, because our culture doesn't know how to do it because we haven't created any...or we've created very few sane, emotional structures for writers. So you have to pay attention. You have to seek out people that will keep you semi-sane. You need to have a reason to keep going, and sometimes that gets tricky. Religion helps, any kind of religion. Politics helps, any kind of political conviction. Your conviction helps. But then you gotta find the right people, because y'know we're so in love with this romantic notion of self-destruction, sometimes your friends will help you along, sometimes your family will help you along and your girlfriends and boyfriends are no help at all. You need to find other writers with whom you can be honest, and you need to keep in mind that it is really difficult for writers to be friends so you have to put some work into it. You guys ever read Amy Bloom? Amy Bloom has a book of stories called COME TO ME. There's a story in COME TO ME called SILVER WATER. When that book was in production before SILVER WATER was published, the woman who was her editor who is a friend of mine, sent me the story. And I read the story and I sat there and all I wanted to do was buy a plane ticket, fly to Connecticut and kill her. And I wrote her a letter in which I said Y'know, I read your story. I loved the story so much. If I could have come into your house and murdered you before anybody knew you had written it, I would've done so and stolen this story, because I wanted to have written this story so bad. Writers are not, writers tend to be really not nice people. We're hungry to be the best. We're hungry for that story that stops the heart. And when another writer writes that story, your first response is oooooo...you have to reign that in. What I do when I read one of those stories that makes me want to kill the writer, I write them and I say this and I try to meet them in person and look at them and Oh, she's got bad skin.(laughter) Got a real problem with the girlfriend, there. Y'know I collect all that stuff and then I try to make them become real because we encourage too much romanticization in this culture. You gotta watch yourself in that stuff. I get myself a couple of really good, sharp writers in my life who are completely honest with me and they keep me from falling into that destructive, romantic fantasy that we encourage. And I'm good for it, because I am sharp about that stuff. So if you can start getting me to look at you, I pull you up short now and again. And I'll introduce you to the ones that pull me up short.

Audience-What is it like to have hundreds and hundreds of people at your deepest worlds, just y'know, I was in a class last semester and I studied your book----and I was wondering what it would be like if I had gone through the same things, written about it and then having the knowledge that there are all of these people out there who are looking at it, reading it and forming their own opinions about it. How does that feel?

Dorothy Allison- I'm 46. If I had published that novel when I was 23...I couldn't have written that novel when I was 23, but let's imagined I had, which ain't gonna usually happen, I probably would not have managed it. It's a part of what I did those two or three things was because of some of the stuff that happened as a result of writing BASTARD, what it felt like emotionally to be that naked was a little bit higher pitch than I had expected, because y'know, I finished the novel when I was 42. And at 42, you're not quite grown up, but you're almost there. I have been working at this material which is my stuff. I figure as a writer you get your stuff. You don't have a whole lot of choice. I could go off and write mysteries, I could write really bad mysteries. But this is what I can do with passion, intensity and great caring. And it is the truth that I have spent two decades becoming this kind of person who can stand up in public with this material. Um, I don't think you can do it real young, real easily and I think even at 42 I ran into trouble. I got angry at the wrong times. I got hurt at the wrong times, and I sometimes had trouble seeing that I was being hurt. Y'know, cause you, one of the things that feminism taught me was the stance of being tough in public, and that's extremely useful, but sometimes it'll cover some damage you're taking, and you won't know you're taking damage until you're by yourself and quiet. And it took me a year to be by myself and quiet after the novel was published. Um, that got tricky. I swear on myself that people who are honest, that'll love me, and I'll walk away from people who are not honest with and who I don't think love me. I think this is my religion at this point. Walk away from the ones who hurt you, including reporters. It is a huge breakthrough to learn that you can say, "No, I don't want to talk to you about that."

Susanne Dietzel- Do we have maybe one more question?

---Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

Dorothy Allison- ----I'm finishing a novel. The novel is called CAVEDWELLER. It is the nature of my work that I'm always working on more than one thing at a time. This novel was in place, I had about three chapters written before I finished BASTARD. I'm almost finished with it, but it's almost 600 pages. It needs a lot of tightening and my life changed in the last couple of years because I had a baby and thought that that would not be a problem, um...(laughter). But I'm also a binge writer and it is clear that I have to organize the possibility of binging to finish it, so I'm doing, I've got that planned for the next, I've stopped travelling. This is the last travel I'll do for the next 8 months. I'll stay home and finish the novel, deliver it. The novel is, it started out to be entirely about 3 sisters who hated each other. And it still is, but I got this thing with mother daughter relationships and I figured out, after I had made the sisters, that one of the reasons they hated each other was their mother, and I kind of fell in love with her, so Delia-----Delia is quite amazing. What else is it about? Ah, It's about spelunking. You guys got a spelunking club around here? This is New Orleans, you probably drowned if you tried to steal...yeah, I did underwater caving for a while. Um, when I was young, I joined a caving group, one of the most terrifying things and exhilerating things I ever did. Um, I have a mild case of claustrophobia, don't like elevators. So of course I went down into a cave. Um, it's like, it's a gift. The caving is a gift. It is amazing possibility for language and metaphor. It is a little bit like Bone's name in BASTARD and I love that stuff. I got a poet's lust for interesting things with language. So, Sissy is the cave dweller um, except that I'm almost done now and have figured out after three years it is Delia that is the cave dweller. But you don't figure it out until the end of the novel. I'm going to read a section of it tomorrow night. Um, and it is a mean story.

Susanne Dietzel- Well we are all looking forward to tomorrow night's reading and we want to thank you so very, very much and thanks to the audience for coming.

(applause)

Dorothy Allison- Thank you.



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