Do Savannnah

Seersucker Live presents fiction authors from Chicago-based Curbside Splendor Publishing

  • Dasha Kelly
  • Vanessa Blakeslee
  • Patrick Wensink

Seersucker Live presents fiction authors from Chicago-based Curbside Splendor Publishing

17 Nov 2015

It’s triple the fun at “Seersucker Live: The Curbside Edition,” set for Nov. 19 at Ampersand.

The event will feature three authors from Chicago’s Curbside Splendor Publishing. Vanessa Blakeslee, Dasha Kelly and Patrick Wensink will discuss and read from their new novels.

Blakeslee’s debut novel, “Juventud,” is about Mercedes, the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Santiago de Cali, Colombia. She flees war-torn mid-1990s Colombia for her estranged family in America.


What: Seersucker Live: The Curbside Episode

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 19

Where: Ampersand, 36 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.

Cost: $10


The book features global politics and plenty of romance. Blakeslee’s debut story collection, “Train Shots,” won the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction and was long-listed for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

“‘Train Shots’ has been optioned for a feature film by New York City-based writer/director Hannah Beth King,” Blakeslee says. “To see your work inspire an artist from another medium is incredibly meaningful and affirming, in a way that receiving critical praise and awards doesn’t touch.”

Blakeslee showed talent early.

“As a child I made up stories constantly — whether by play-acting with Thundercats action figures or sitting down at my mom’s electric typewriter until I used up all the ribbon,” she says. “But by high school and my first year of college, I had largely set aside my own imaginative writings.

“My sophomore year I studied abroad in Australia, and I can only describe my time there as a spiritual awakening of sorts, the kind born from travel and spending time intensely with a congenial group of very different people,” Blakeslee says. “When I came back, I enrolled in my first creative writing workshop and within the first few classes, knew that this would be my path.”

With her editors, Blakeslee chose the title, “Juventud,” which translates to “youth” in Spanish.

“‘Juventud’ speaks to our tendency in youth to see the world in black-and-white rather than shades of gray,” Blakeslee says. “But it also captures the ongoing humanitarian crises in South and Central America — the tens of thousands of children illegally crossing the U.S. border and the drug-related massacre of 43 students in Mexico in 2014, even as the Colombian government and the FARC move toward a lasting peace.”

The idea for the novel began gelling when the author was in college.

“I’d become acquainted with several students from Latin America,” Blakeslee says. “They told stories of getting driven around by private chauffeurs in armed cars, having maids dress them until they were 12.

“One young woman in particular, from Colombia, told a harrowing story of how she believed her father had somehow been involved in a tragic incident with her first love, after which she was convinced to finish her studies in the U.S.,” Blakeslee says. “How the traumatic events of our youth irrevocably shape us drives the narrative — one that I may very well continue to mine in fiction.”

Wensink is the author of four books, including the best-seller “Broken Piano for President.” His first children’s book, “Gorillas A-Go-Go,” will be published next year.

“I am forever in debt to Savannah’s Johnny Mercer,” Wensink says. “‘Gorillas A-Go-Go’ is a rhyming children’s book about dancing gorillas.

“The only reference books I had on my desk while writing that book was a rhyming dictionary and ‘The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer,’” he says. “His writing style was a huge influence on that book.”

A resident of Louisville, Ky., Wensink is touring in support of his new comedic novel, “Fake Fruit Factory.”

“I was a rock critic for many years in the early 2000s and slowly transitioned to fiction,” he says. “I would say I was probably in my mid-20s when I started writing fiction, which is pretty late compared to some geniuses who claim they were writing short stories in grade school and whatnot.

“I write comedies because I am a smartass. Jokes and sarcasm are my most comfortable mode of communication, whether in person or on the page.

“Also, I have found that making jokes is a great way to sneak in heavier material on an audience,” Wensink says. “‘Fake Fruit Factory’ is about the oddballs living in a goofy small town that may or may not get struck by a falling satellite.

“But that’s just a trick to get readers thinking about bigger things like how certain economic decisions have essentially crushed America’s small towns,” Wensink says. “Good times, right?”

It’s hard to be funny, Wensink says.

“I think a lot of people assume I sit in my office holding a rubber chicken and giggling all day, when in reality I mostly just sit there and want to hit myself in the head with a hammer,” he says. “Since no two people have the same sense of humor, it is hard to know whether or not anything you write will be funny.

“There is a little tingle that goes off in my spine when I write something I suspect will get a laugh, but I never laugh out loud myself,” Wensink says. “When people ask what kind of novels I write I always say, ‘Hopefully they are funny, but your mileage may vary.’”

Savannah-based author Harrison Scott Key is responsible for Wensink’s appearance in Savannah.

“He has been a friend of mine for a while and I asked him where I should read in Savannah and he raved about the Seersucker reading series,” Wensink says. “Savannah is one of my favorite cities in America, so I am always looking for a reason to visit.

“Actually, my wife was quite jealous, so she is taking time off of work and we are pulling our 4-year-old son out of school to convert the tour into a family vacation,” he says. “I apologize in advance if my son starts screaming mid-way through the reading.”

Kelly’s debut novel, “Almost Crimson,” is about CeCe Weathers, who for as long as she can remember, has taken care of herself. With her father gone and her mother crippled by chronic depression, CeCe struggles to find fulfillment in keeping their lives together.

However, CeCe is forced to stay close to home and stifle her own dreams. She struggles with the decision to choose between her obligation to care for her mother or live life on her own terms.

“CeCe had arrived in my brain as that friend we all have who we keep wondering, ‘What is happening to her?’” Kelly says. “As I kept putting her in scenes, I had to ask how was she so naive and so uncertain of herself and piece together the whys and hows. You have to appreciate the journey someone has and you want the readers to have the same experience in knowing her.”

Kelly has always been interested in literature.

“My mother will tell everyone she’s not surprised,” she says. “I was the kid reading to other kids with the book upside down. I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, officially since I was 10.”

A resident of Milwaukee, Kelly is the author of one chapbook, “Hither,” and three books, “All Fall Down,” “Hershey Eats Peanuts” and “Call It Forth.”

A spoken word artist, Kelly has performed throughout the United States and Canada and appeared on the final season of HBO’s “Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam.”

“I hated poetry coming up through school,” she says. “I loved literature and essays and wondered why they were torturing us with poetry. I didn’t have the patience for it.”

But an open mic session changed Kelly’s mind.

“It was storytelling but clearly in poetry form,” she says. “That’s was what took me, the writerly challenge of telling a story in a limited amount of space.”

In 2014, Kelly was selected as a U.S. Embassy Arts Envoy to teach and perform in Botswana, Africa.

“It was fantastic, when I was most overwhelmed,” she says. “On a professional and spiritual space, it was remarkably fulfilling.”

Kelly has been touring since May in support of her book.

“Curbside is introducing its stable of writers to communities,” Kelly says. “It’s exciting across the board. I don’t know if I would have discovered Seersucker Live on my own.”

All three of the participating writers have been selected for the Miami Book Fair and are making a stop in Savannah while en route.

“I’m going to read from the novel, a couple of short chapters I like to read,” Kelly says. “If people haven’t gone to a live lit event, I would love for them to take away the expansion of what literature can be, of what literature can do.

“We are bringing it to life right in front of you and exposing you to our favorite part of the story,” she says. “Who doesn’t remember story time? Sitting in a small circle in second grade and having someone share with you what excites the senses.”