“The fiction writer is usually the kid who grew up with 10 million questions and had a parent or relative who would end up finally answering their questions with, ‘Because I said so, that’s why,'” said Amina Gautier, author and professor of English at DePaul University.
If her lifelong affinity for writing and her success in the upper echelons of literary society are any indication, Gautier herself probably had at least one relative who would offer this response after her hundredth question of the day.
The 2011 winner of the prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, Gautier will be visiting Miami University at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 in Art Building 100 to read from her short story collection At-Risk.
At-Risk vividly renders the lives of teens who, for one reason or another, fall into the category that the book takes its name from.
“The stories are set when I was a child, the 1980s and early 1990s, with Ronald Reagan and George Bush and the Cold War, Gulf War, the war on drugs,” Gautier said.
Although she does not think it necessary for writers to always write with the goal of exposing society’s flaws, Gautier did choose to confront some of the social issues she noticed as a child in this particular collection.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Gautier began writing when she was in elementary school, winning awards throughout her time in primary education.
“I started out as a poet, and when I started at Stanford [University] I knew I wanted to be a writer and thought I wanted to stay a poet,” Gautier said. “Then I took a fiction course and realized that was where my true love lies, that I was far more interested in characterization and dialogue and plot than in images.”
Another decision Gautier had to make was the form to pursue in her writing: short story or the novel. While the former is much more commonly imitated and analyzed in undergraduate and graduate writing programs, the novel is typically more marketable and reaches a wider audience.
“I thought from looking at peers and colleagues that it was formulaic to expect someone who’d been reading and studying short stories to all of a sudden turn out a novel,” Gautier said. “A novel isn’t a longer short story, it’s a completely different form. I’d have to study that just as intensely to be able to do it well.”
That’s not to say that Gautier hasn’t been prolific in her chosen form. At this point in her career, she’s published over 70 stories and won numerous grants and awards. The secret to her success is twofold: never cater to the whims of the market and always produce at least ten polished stories before submitting any for publication. Both are tricks she has learned from experience and writing mentors.
“I published my first story during my first year as a Ph.D student at Kent. It was awesome, you think, ‘Wow, I just entered a business negotiation,'” Gautier said. “And you see a hundred more just like that one. Then it took another year before I’d been accepted again.”
Her dedication to the craft was heartily rewarded when she received the Flannery O’Connor award.
“I was on a plane and flying back from a conference, and when I landed I had all these phone calls from the same person telling me that I’d won, and at my apartment I had two or three emails as well,” Gautier said. “Tears came to my eyes, I called my mom, and yes, I was a writer before, but now I’m an author.”