Jason Brown, a fiction writer whose work has appeared in magazines and anthologies such as “The Best American Short Stories” and “The Atlantic” visited Southern Utah University on April 15 for a public reading.
Assistant Professor of English Ryan Shoemaker introduced Brown, revealing that the two writers met over 18 years ago in Tucson, Arizona. According to Shoemaker, Brown was teaching “in the University of Arizona’s top ranked creative writing program.”
At a time when Shoemaker felt adrift on his journey to develop as a writer, he discovered Brown’s collection “Driving the Heart and Other Short Stories,” which highlights the thematic element of loneliness.
“The collection blew me away. I could relate,” Shoemaker said.
In what Shoemaker describes as “an uncharacteristic act of boldness,” he knocked on Brown’s office door one day at the university, wanting to thank him for his collection that had touched him so deeply.
“I thanked him and asked him if he would sign my book. He wrote, “From a writer to a writer,’” Shoemaker said. “I’ve always appreciated that small gesture, those few cheery words that carried me forward year after year on that peculiarium journey to become a writer.”
Now, almost a decade later, Brown had flown in to Utah from California to teach a master class for Shoemaker’s Introduction to Fiction Writing students and share his work. What’s more, Shoemaker has become a short story fiction writer like Brown.
During this full circle moment for the two writers, Brown read some of his work out of his short story collection “Faithful but Melancholy Account of Several Barbarities Lately Committed” that was published in 2019.
This collection of stories meant a lot to Brown as they are loosely based on his grandfather, who was a World War II veteran. His grandfather served alongside allied forces on D Day and earned a silver star.
“Some stories are closer to me and some are farther away, but as a writer you try and disguise that so that they all seem real,” Brown said.
Following the reading, Brown took some time to answer questions the audience had for the fiction writer.
Kymberlin Johnson, one of Shoemaker’s students, asked Brown how long it had taken for him to finish this particular collection of short stories.
“It’s not about time or money,” Brown said. “My family members had experienced all of these difficult things during the war . . . and literary fiction tries to peel back the surface of things and tries to look underneath the surface of human nature.”
Brown served to not only provide inspiration for Shoemaker for 18 years, but after visiting SUU students, encouraged and offered advice to Shoemaker’s students who are in the process of revising and finishing their own short stories.
For more information on Brown, visit his website.
Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Armstrong