Writing Under the Same Roof: Two Houston Writers Talk Fiction, Love, and Utopia
September 26, 2016, by Mat Johnson
Allegra Hyde and Alex McElroy met while completing their MFAs in Fiction at Arizona State University. They married upon graduating in spring 2015, and then spent the following year in Bulgaria, where Allegra completed a Fulbright Grant. This past summer, they settled in Houston, so that Alex could begin studies as a PhD candidate in Fiction at the University of Houston.
Allegra’s first book, Of This New World, recently won the 2016 John Simmons Iowa Short Fiction Award. She will be launching the book this Monday, October 3rd, at 7:00 PM at Brazos Bookstore. To mark the occasion, Allegra and Alex sat down to discuss the collection, writing as a couple, and their burgeoning love for Houston.
ALEX McELROY: What’s it like to bring out your first book in a city that’s still very new to you?
ALLEGRA HYDE: Houston has come to feel like home really quickly. It’s a tremendously friendly and generous city, with a welcoming creative writing community. I’m looking forward to reading at Brazos! The bookstore is an amazing literary presence, and I feel lucky to have their support, along with that of Gulf Coast.
AM: Of This New World is a collection of utopia-themed stories. I know you’ve been interested in utopias for years, and this comes through in many of these stories—which are about Shaker communities, Mars colonies, and hippie communes, to name a few. Have you noticed any signs of utopia in Houston so far?
you’re sure to find some form of paradise: whether it’s standing in front of a Rothko at the Menil Collection or eating street truck tacos on Alabama.
AH: [Laughs] Like every city, Houston has its flaws. It’s not flood proof—so I’ve been warned—but I do think that it has utopian aspects. Depending on what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find some form of paradise: whether it’s standing in front of a Rothko at the Menil Collection or eating street truck tacos on Alabama.
Now I have a question for you: What’s it like being married to another writer?
AM: When I was younger, I internalized this Lorrie Moore interview where she jokes that she could never marry a writer, that she needed someone who didn’t understand her work. Thus far, this theory has proven unfounded. It’s great being married to another writer. I love that every day I get to talk about writing and books with someone whose ideas I admire. Plus, we both have brilliant, live-in editors.
Of This New World contains thirteen stories, all of which are excellent, in my opinion. But I want to know: What’s your favorite story in the collection?
AH: Oh, Alex, I think picking your favorite story out of a collection would be like picking your favorite child.
AM: But all parents secretly have a favorite child.
AH: This coming from an only child!
Okay, to answer your question: my favorite depends on my mood. As you know, the stories are written in a variety of genres and modes. Some have a historical fiction vibe, others are more absurdist. At this moment, the final story, “Americans on Mars!” stands out. I’m proud of the story for balancing goofy and serious tones. While it’s about the protagonist’s bedroom hang-ups, it’s also speaks about the monumental ramifications of climate change.
Seeing as you’ve read this collection more than anyone, what would you say is your favorite story?
AM: Thankfully, picking a favorite of someone else’s children isn’t so difficult. I really do love all these stories, but I particularly love you at your most strange and lyrical, which comes through in “Syndication.” It’s a haunting fairy tale of childhood abandonment and also a moving, honest portrait of a sibling relationship—or so I hear. The language is beautiful, but also wild, like a roller coaster, where half the fun is fearing you’ll loop off into the sky
Enough picking favorites. Other than for me, who is this collection for?
In many ways, the book is for those groups. It’s for anyone driven to step away from the safe path and try something different. It is, in short, a book for anyone willing to dream and hope for a better future.
AH: As you know, I’ve been obsessed with utopian communities for many years, and I’ve even participated in some utopian endeavors. What draws me to these groups is the courage and creativity that is required to step away from mainstream society in an attempt to build a better world, even when the odds are stacked against the community. Most utopian groups don’t last very long. Nonetheless, I am inspired by these groups, whether it’s early Puritan colonists, or the Transcendentalists at Brook Farm, or sixties hippie communes. In many ways, the book is for those groups. It’s for anyone driven to step away from the safe path and try something different. It is, in short, a book for anyone willing to dream and hope for a better future.
Allegra Hyde has published work in The Missouri Review, New England Review, Gettysburg Review, The Pushart Prize XL: Best of the Small Presses, and elsewhere. She is the author of Of This New World, which won the 2016 John Simmons Iowa Short Fiction Award. For more about Allegra, visit www.allegrahyde.com.
Alex McElroy’s writing appears in New England Review, Conjunctions, Tin House online, Black Warrior Review, Georgia Review, and more work can be found at www.alexmcelroy.org. He is currently a fiction editor for Gulf Coast.