Stories from several realities

Anna Noyes and Brian Booker will present new fiction collections at Prairie Lights this evening.

By Gracey Murphy

[email protected]

Many strange and gratifying experiences can be found through short stories. One may discover origins of sexuality while basking in the waves of coastal Maine. Another may simulate a firsthand experience with an absurd illness by skimming a few pages.

This evening, Anna Noyes and Brian Booker, two recent Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates, will have a reading at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. Noyes will read from her collection of short stories Goodnight, Beautiful Women, and Booker will read from his Are You Here for What I’m Here For?

“It feels like a full circle to attend the Workshop, leave, publish a book, and come back to read,” Booker said.

Some of the stories included in his collection were, in fact, written during his time at the Workshop.

In the stories contained in Are You Here for What I’m Here for?, Booker delves into occurrences that have to do with odd illnesses. While he said it’s hard to confine his stories to any specific genre, he noted that they do reflect his obsessions. He also wants these stories to push people out of their comfort zones and to encourage them to explore dangerous territory.

“I hope that the stories, even though there’s a lot of dark stuff in them — like illness, fear, dislocation, disappearing children, confrontation with mortality — have humor even in a bleak way,” Booker said.

Though similarly macabre in tone, Noyes’ stories from Goodnight, Beautiful Women focus more on girls and their sexuality. In the collection, the author draws details from her own life and those of women she knows to add to her stories.

“I’ve always been drawn to stories of female relationship and women at an impasse in their lives and what’s expected of them as good women and good girls,” Noyes said.

She has been working on this collection for 10 years and wrote “Goodnight, Beautiful Women” — which would eventually become the name of her entire collection — when she was only 17. Noyes said this caused her to feel most connected to the title story.

“I can kind of look at it and see the root of all the other stories [in it],” she said. “It’s amazing to see the beginning of the trajectory, even before I wrote the book.”

Booker’s collection also contains stories written from various points in his past. The stories in Are You Here were written over the course of two decades, between 1994 and 2014. 

In addition to writing, Noyes and Booker have both supplemented their vocations with a variety of other pursuits over the years.

Booker teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago, where, he said, teaching helps him become a better writer. When students ask questions, he learns by explaining answers to them.

Noyes has spent time in Connecticut and in Estonia as a writer-in-residence at the Polli Talu Arts Center, finding that being alone has helped her to focus and get her work done.

She also finds small details in these places that she can include in her stories. For example, after consistently noticing the little black snakes on the tar while in Estonia, she decided to add them to her forthcoming novel.

Both authors said they look forward to coming back to Iowa City to read at Prairie Lights. They said they appreciate the help the Workshop gave them and are excited that members of the Young Writers’ Studio — a UI-sponsored summer program for aspiring high-school writers — will attend the reading.

“Iowa in general has been such a second home to me, especially the community in Iowa City,” Noyes said, noting the important role that literature plays in the locale. “I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces in the audience.”

Facebook Comments