Mae Miller Claxton, associate professor in the Department of English at Western Carolina University, has edited a collection of interviews with Dorothy Allison, the acclaimed author of works including the groundbreaking 1992 novel “Bastard Out of Carolina.”
“Conversations with Dorothy Allison” collects 18 interviews with the author that span almost two decades of her career. Published by the University Press of Mississippi, the book is part of its Literary Conversations Series.
It is the first collection of interviews with Allison, whose themes as a writer, speaker and teacher include poverty, class struggle, child and sexual abuse, domestic violence, the contemporary South, women’s relationships and gay/lesbian life. In addition to fiction, Allison, who was born in 1949 and makes her home in Northern California, writes poems, short stories and essays.
Claxton became more familiar with Allison’s work after an appearance by the author at WCU in the fall of 2009. “Bastard Out of Carolina,” the story of a poor, extended Southern family and a girl who forges a positive identity in the face of abuse, “opened up a world to me that I was very unfamiliar with,” Claxton said.
The interview from the WCU appearance, with Rob Neufeld of the Asheville Citizen-Times, is included in the book, along with interviews that have appeared in the online magazine Salon and The New York Times. In these conversations, with candor and wit, Allison reveals details of her upbringing in working-class Greenville, S.C, her work as a writer and her participation in the women’s movement of the 1970s.
Allison is an “amazing interviewee,” said Claxton, who provided an introduction and chronology for the book. “She feels like her voice is important to get out there and she’s very generous to the people who interview her.” The collection is intended for readers interested in Allison and students of her work, Claxton said.
The Allison work is a significant addition to the Literary Conversations Series, a 30-year-old series of more than 100 volumes of collected interviews with prominent writers, said Peggy Whitman Prenshaw, series editor and Millsaps College Humanities Scholar in Residence. Allison’s work is important because it addresses “vividly and candidly” the Southern working-class culture, Prenshaw said.
“Along with such writers as Larry Brown and Harry Crews, Allison depicts the hardships and perseverance of families dealing with few economic resources and uncertain futures,” she said.
Claxton was ideal to edit the series because she has taught Allison’s work and her scholarly research has focused on Southern women writers, Prenshaw said.