Lucas Southworth ’01 fulfilled one of his personal dreams when he read his award winning short stories at his alma mater in a Caxton Club reading on Monday, May 21 in the Alumni Room.
Southworth’s reading of his works, which won him the prestigious Grace Paley prize, came in the middle of a slew of readings and literary events including multiple readings, awards presentations and release parties.
Southworth was introduced by Professor of English Robin Metz, who recalled Lucas as “a good boy, mostly” but who added that the best stories about Southworth at Knox involved when he was not.
Although some of Southworth’s stories are realistic and contemporary, others move in a more surrealist direction, presenting what Metz called “this fever dream of America,” following in the footsteps of American surrealists and magical realists.
Senior Autumn McGarr came to the event without any knowledge about Southworth’s writing, although she admitted that she never goes in knowing the writer. This, however, allows her to hear the writer’s intention in a very immediate way the first time she hears it.
“Good readers are expressive,” McGarr said. “Through that, you get a lot more of what they’re trying to say.”
Southworth read two pieces from his upcoming collection of short stories, “Everyone Here Has a Gun,” which originally would have been published in time for the reading but has been delayed until late fall.
His first piece was the titular piece of the collection, a surreal short story about a room where everyone is armed and no one will leave.
Although “in this room, nothing would be better than to throw down our guns and forget ourselves,” the narrator matter of factly states that “eventually someone here will shoot” and “when a gun goes off, we all plan to be the second to fire.”
On an obvious level, the piece could be seen as a commentary on the state of American gun control; on a deeper level it is a tragic and relatable story about the human desire to trust but inability to do so.
Southworth said that his reasons for reading his second piece would become obvious as soon as he started reading. While standing in front of a portrait of the 16th president, he announced the title “Lincoln’s Face.” The audience laughed approvingly and Southworth added, “I didn’t know he’d be behind me,” and they laughed again.
The story — which was much more grounded and realistic than the first piece — told the story of a black makeup artist who was asked by an ex-boyfriend and actor to turn him into Abraham Lincoln for a new movie.
Oddly enough, this piece also dealt with the idea of firearms, since at the beginning, the audience already knows the makeup artist will accidentally shoot the actor before the story is finished. This piece, however, was not so much about the gun itself, but the project of turning the actor into Lincoln and how it forces the artist to examine her own relationship to her skin color, history, truth and the actor.