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Savannah authors tout new books at Seersucker Live’s Freefall Episode

  • Zach Powers (Photo by Stephanie Raines)
 

Savannah authors tout new books at Seersucker Live’s Freefall Episode

16 May 2017

The Freefall Episode of Seersucker Live will be one of the local literary group’s more unique shows.

Seersucker Live, a literary arts nonprofit that is part literary reading, talk show and cocktail party, has hosted local, national and regional writers in Savannah since 2010. For the first time, the nonprofit’s co-founder and co-host, Savannah native Zach Powers, will be featured along with highly acclaimed Savannah-based poet Patricia Lockwood. Poet Shanique “Neka” Brown joins the two at the May 19 show at Sulfur Studios.

Powers’ first book, “Gravity Changes,” a collection of short fiction, was released via BOA Editions on May 16, after winning the publishing company’s short fiction prize. Lockwood’s recently released memoir, “Priestdaddy,” has garnered attention from The New York Times, The Guardian and The Atlantic.

A saxophonist, Powers graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in 2002 with a degree in jazz studies, then returned to Savannah. He got a job at a local news station working the evening newscasts. For six nights a week, he would have a three-hour break between the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news. Instead of trekking back to his Wilmington Island home, Powers started hitting up Gallery Espresso to kill time.

“I sort of ended up back in Savannah by default with my degree in jazz studies, which of course prepares you for no employment whatsoever,” Powers said with his trademark dry humor. “I was sort of like, what job skill can I get? I said, ‘I am good at the words.’

“I started writing. I was like, can I do this? I didn’t really have a plan, necessarily. I just started writing stories. I was just sitting there writing and reading for three hours every night. That eventually pushed to more serious writing.”

During his time at the news station, Powers’ writing earned him an Emmy Award. He co-founded Seersucker Live in 2010, and led the writers’ workshop at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home for eight years. He now splits his time between Savannah and Fairfax, Va.

Powers has broad reading habits, but early on drew a considerable amount of influence from the magic realism or fabulism of Italo Calvino. Haruki Murakami also had a huge influence on the stories in “Gravity Changes,” some of which are almost 10 years old now.

“I always liked the fabulism,” Powers said. “Calvino was a post-modern writer. As a storyteller, he was writing whatever came into his mind from science or science fiction to parables. He was a well-versed, well-read guy and he let all of his influences come out in interesting ways.

“The second Murakami book I read was ‘A Wild Sheep Chase,’” he continued. “Basically in the book there’s a concept of a magical sheep that possesses people’s bodies. You never encounter the sheep, except by hearsay and it’s never explained. Murakami is saying basically, ‘My story has a mystical sheep. If you can’t get your head around that, then stop reading.’

“It’s not that direct, but he doesn’t apologize for it, or try to qualify it. It’s just there. I had this realization, ‘I don’t have to explain the sheep.’ In terms of what enabled me to be a writer, that was probably the most important moment.”

Characters in “Gravity Changes” break the rules of physics, flying around or disappearing through a portal at the bottom of a swimming pool. Powers explores thought experiments that often don’t have neat conclusions or tidy answers — ideas that grow from simple thoughts into fantastic journeys.

His fascination with science and science fiction is evident throughout the collection, as he carefully bends the rules of physics or laws of the universe to explore minute details of the human disposition. The stories feel like parables at times, leaving empty layers of questions lingering, but providing enough details to be utterly fascinating.

As a collection, the stories of “Gravity Changes” expand through a universe of evolving subjects, acting as guideposts in Powers’ own discovery and development as a writer.

“If you’re starting to figure out writing, it’s a lot easier to figure out things in shorter pages, instead of a novel length,” Powers said. “I think each story is a thought experiment in its own way, too. That’s the length that that experience lasted.

“None of those stories have exactly the same process in terms of where they came from,” he said. “There’s usually a single moment of inspiration. Most times when I write stories, it starts from a very small idea or concept that interests me. Then at some point it matches with an idea of a character or characters. The characters do things and the idea meshes up. Sometimes it starts with something as simple as a title. All of these little elements come together to form whatever absurd story is behind then.

“A lot of those stories are old. Honestly, they reflect a very different writing time of my life and a time when I was in the midst of discovery. I was in the midst of discovering literary writing as a whole.”

Lockwood, an Indiana native and Savannah resident, released new memoir “Priestdaddy” on May 2, about her father, a somewhat unorthodox Catholic priest. The memoir follows two collections of poetry, 2014’s “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” released by Penguin Books and “Balloon Pop Outlaw Black” via Octopus Books. In 2013, her poem “Rape Joke” went viral, earning inclusion in the serial publication “The Best American Poetry 2014.” The poem also won a Pushcart Prize.

Brown is a poet attending Savannah State University. She has won numerous awards at SSU, including the Intellectual Freedom Essay, Education Matters Essay and first place for Paint Chip Poetry.

IF YOU GO

What: Seersucker Live — The Freefall Episode

When: 7 p.m. May 19

Where: Sulfur Studios, second-floor annex, 2301 Bull St.

Cost: $10 or $5 with student ID

Info: seersuckerlive.com

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