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Linked stories in small-town U.S.A.

BY SARAH LARSON | FEBRUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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Barnes & Noble chose UI alum and writer Jerry Gabriel as the 2010 Discover Great New Writers Award finalist for his collection of short stories titled Drowned Boy.

“It’s a great honor,” Gabriel said. “The competition is pretty fierce. It’s a real vote of confidence in the book.”

He will read from his award-winning work at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Light Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

The author, who was a member of the Writers’ Workshop, named many faculty members who made a difference and helped him develop as a writer.

“I really felt lucky to engage with the kinds of people I engaged with there,” Gabriel said.

Stuart Dybek’s short-story writing class was one that had a large effect on the writer, he said. The class expanded his ideas of what a story could do and the power a collection of stories has, Gabriel said. He also labeled Dybek’s work as his model for Drowned Boy.

The author decided to write a collection of short stories after thinking about his past stories. He crafted new pieces around four others he had previously written. The result was Drowned Boy, which tells the linked stories of individuals in small-town America.

Gabriel’s wife, fellow UI grad and writer Karen Leona Anderson, will also read tonight from her book of poems.

“For me as a poet, watching someone tell a story step-by-step is an amazing and unimaginable thing,” Anderson said. “I can’t do that. I feel like we really complement each other, and it’s a lot of fun to read together.”

Gabriel is looking forward to visiting his former teachers and seeing how the campus changed since he was a student, he said.

“Just being in Iowa City will be fun,” he said. “I don’t think either of us have been there in about 10 years, so it will be interesting to walk around and see how things have changed.”

Besides looking forward to his upcoming visit, Gabriel expressed his joy at receiving the 2008 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. The award is what allowed Drowned Boy to be published. Andrea Barrett, a National Book Award winner who Gabriel said influenced his work, judged the contest.

“I felt really charmed to have my book up the year she was judging and to have her choose my book and also write a very generous introduction to my book,” Gabriel said. “So, it was a big deal for me, and it’s still very exciting.”

He writes as much as possible, he said. His writing processes differ depending on what he is working on, he said, but he usually does not think about what his writing means until he finishes a longer work. After letting his intuition guide him, he finds the meaning and reworks the piece.

For short stories such as Drowned Boy, he said, it is not the same process.

“You can almost see the end of it when you start it,” Gabriel said. “It’s a much quicker, more deliberate process for me.”


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