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Mission Creek Festival: Andrea Lawlor and Deb Olin Unferth @ Prairie Lights 4/5/2018

Andrea Lawlor teaches writing, edits fiction for Fence, and has been awarded fellowships by Lambda Literary and Radar Labs. Their writing has appeared in various literary journals including PloughsharesMutha, the Millions, Jubilat, and the Brooklyn Rail. Their publications include a chapbook, Position Papers.

Image via Mount Holyoke College

They read from their debut novel Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl yesterday at Prairie Lights Bookstore. Taking place in the 1990s, the novel follows Paul Polydoris, a shapeshifter that transforms his body.

“He is able to change his appearance and gender on demand and in a manner of minutes. Switching from Paul to Polly, he is the kind of mythical character,” said Michael Valinsky. “We quickly learn that Paul’s gender is mutable and that he’ll transform his body any time he thinks he might get something from the person he is interacting with, be it a sexual release or conversation.”

Image via Small Press Distribution

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl has a strong sense of place, taking the reader on adventures, “through New York City at the height of the aids crisis, Iowa City’s queer punk scene, off-season Provincetown, a women’s festival in Michigan, and, finally, San Francisco,” said The New Yorker. “Lawlor successfully mixes pop culture, gender theory, and smut, but the great achievement here is that Paul is no mere symbol but a vibrant yearning.”

During the Q&A portion of the program, Lawlor discussed the importance of small presses as LGBTQ representation in literature.

“Like many queer and trans people, I’ve been attracted to stories about shapeshifters my whole life, Lawlor said. “I wanted to explore, through art, what it felt like to navigate different spaces and demands around gender.”

Image via Wikipedia

Unferth is an associate professor at the University of Texas in Austin. She also runs the Pen-City Writers, a creative writing program at a penitentiary in southern Texas. Her fiction can be found in magazines such as Granta, Harper’sMcSweeney’sNOON, and the Paris Review. Deb Olin Unferth has received four Pushcart Prizes, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Unferth read from her collection Wait Till You See Me Dance: Stories, which features fiction that, “lures you in with a voice that seems amiable and lighthearted, but it swerves in sudden and surprising ways that reveal, in terrifying clarity, the rage, despair, and profound mournfulness that have taken up residence at the heart of the American dream,” said Greywolf Press.

Image via Electric Literature

Unferth read “The First Full Thought of Her Life,” a short story about a shooter getting ready to kill a child ascending a sand dune. The short story shifts perspectives and warps time.