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Amber Paulen

Fiction Reading: Dorothy Allison

at John Cabot

Dorothy Allison walks into the room. She’s shorter and smaller, much smaller than I imagined her. From her words I imagined a great giant of a woman, towering above all men, tough yet genial, rough yet merciful, a woman to make men and women cower, never forcing herself, but strongly, intelligently convincing them of her truth. I imagined that a gaze is enough, one look in her eye and you’ll know, you’ll know…

John Cowper Powys calls this “hero worship” and it’s something I’m inclined to, and shamelessly. In anticipation for this week I’ve been imagining: Dorothy Allison could be near, she could be in this very restaurant, on this very street. And she is, at this very moment, in Rome, maybe visiting the Colosseum or maybe the Villa Borghese. But I didn’t see her around town; I saw her in that room at John Cabot, a formally academic room that smells a little too much like an uppity cult, sometimes. Dorothy Allison walked into the room: she seemed normal.

After chats with the academics and some very laudable introductions, Dorothy Allison took the podium. If Dorothy Allison is human when she is engaged in daily life, she is magical when she tells a story. On the podium, Dorothy Allison spoke me maudlin, her story unwound like a sumptuous garden I had been given. Oh I walked through that garden where she led me, following the graceful arc of the story and its circles. And I better understood the nature of stories, the way we use them to relate to one another. I felt myself loose and open, the wisdom of her metaphors massaging my mind like a drug I depend on to keep me human.

The short story she told (she rarely read from her paper) was set somewhere between Mendocino and Sonoma County in California. It was about family and fiction and crossing over lines from which there is no return. It was tough and it was raw. She cursed loud and she cursed often: Fuck You Bitch! in all capital letters. Dorothy Allison writes from a deep part of herself, from her fears she said, from the places people don’t want to see, don’t want to know about, would rather not hear. Yet at the same time, generosity bursts from her writing; her smile is all good loving kindness.

Tomorrow Dorothy Allison will enter the room for the second time, and I am no less excited.


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