In both his poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds and his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong can deploy an image like a hand grenade. His work combines pain and beauty and is relentless smart in its choice of form. He is not afraid to devastate his reader, but his language salves the wounds even as it delivers them.
Smith is a poet who blends delight and humor so well that the deep, pervasive intelligence underlying the work can sneak up on you, but when it hits, the wallop is all the stronger. Never pretentious, they invite the reader into their mind and takes us on the most fabulous tour. Their work shows that one can be delighted and joyous while still being angry and thoughtful about the subjects that deserve anger and thought.
Evans’s short stories glide us into a world so quickly and easily that I’m convinced she’s performing some kind of magic trick. Every person seems drawn from life, with full histories that inform their feelings and behaviors, and the situations that unfold are complex and nuanced. Even when the conflict invites judgment, Evans holds back, allowing the reader space and permission to think about every angle before drawing their own conclusions. She’s brilliant.
In grad school, it sometimes seemed like the worse thing a workshop piece could be was melodramatic, and for a long time I wrote in fear of letting anything too catastrophic happen in my fiction for fear it would be just that. Then I read Morrison’s Beloved. I won’t spoil the plot here, but I will say that if any writer ever risked melodrama, it was Morrison, and yet the book is nothing of the sort. Instead, it’s richly, honestly emotional. I write aspiring to even a shadow of her control. She’s a master, and I return to her novels again and again. She opens up the possible.
Her novels The Master Butcher Singing Club and Last Report on the Miracles of Little No Horse are two of my all time favorite novels, and I can feel the poetic impulse that drive the choices in each. Her language and imagery are impeccable, but these are combined with flawed but fascinating characters who drive complex plots. When I want to remember what perfect sentences look like, I return to Erdrich.
Siân Griffiths lives in Ogden, Utah, where she teaches creative writing at Weber State University. Her poetry, stories, and essays have appeared in The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Cincinnati Review, and Ninth Letter among other publications. She is the author of the novels Borrowed Horses and Scrapple as well as the short fiction chapbook The Heart Keeps Faulty Time. Currently, she reads fiction as part of the editorial teams at Barrelhouse and American Short Fiction. For more information, please visit sbgriffiths.com