ARTS & CULTURE
Reading Room: Bryn Chancellor were “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” At the same time, I also loved the “Modesty Blaise” spy thrillers.
Story by KATIE MCDOWELL Photograph by STEPHANIE BATKIE
ryn Chancellor is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at the University of Montevallo. She and her husband, Timothy Winkler, an artist, live in Montevallo. Chancellor hails from the West — California and Arizona — and received a bachelor’s degree in English from Northern Arizona University and postgraduate degrees in English and creative writing from Arizona State University and Vanderbilt. She is a fiction writer working on a short story collection and a novel.
What drew you to Shelby County? My job at the University of Montevallo brought us to the area, but we chose to live in Montevallo because we liked the small-town charm and natural beauty. I love taking walks in Orr Park, along the walking trail or around my neighborhood — as well as being able to walk to campus! The city and campus are supportive places for artists, with events such as the Montevallo Literary Festival, Montevallo Artwalk and Montevallo Arts Festival, among others. Why do you love to read? My mom always likes to tell the story of how I surprised her by reading a note aloud when I was around 3 years
old. Startled, she said, “I didn’t know you could read,” and I shrugged my tot shoulders and said, “Yeah.” In some ways, that’s how reading still feels to me: like something I have always known how to do. Yet it also stands out as one of the saving graces of my life, the act to which I have turned again and again to find solace, to escape, to expand and enrich my mind. What a wonder a book is: through the art of language, we are transported to worlds that we would otherwise never know. Reading is simultaneously the most ordinary and the most wildly magical habit of my life. What’s the first book you loved? In memory I clump together favorites: Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” and “Ralph Mouse” books, and then everything Judy Blume wrote. Scott Dell’s “The Island of the Blue Dolphins,” too. In high school, the literary books that knocked me flat
Why did you pursue a literary career? From a writer’s perspective, I often ask myself this same question! Heaven knows it’s not to be rich or famous, though the myth of “The Author” still looms large in our culture. Flannery O’Connor said, “Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.” Writing indeed is a humbling pursuit, but getting down in the dust is also deeply gratifying. Writing teaches me to look for the extraordinary in the mundane, to see possibilities in wrong turns, to revel in my own imagination. From a teacher’s perspective, I am grateful every day to be able to make a living by reading and talking about literature and helping others to become better writers. Do you have anything to promote? Please join us for the Montevallo Literary Festival on April 12, on the University of Montevallo campus. Visit Montevallo.edu/english/mlf. I also blog at Unboundleaves.wordpress.com. l
Bryn’s Reading Recommendations: “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides Eugenides’ epic novel is stunning for its sweeping historic scope, mythic allusions and narrative range. At its heart, though, is the story of Cal, whose sexual identity is swept up in three generations of Greek-American family secrets and genetics, who grabs the reader with the opening sentence and never lets us go. 14 | ShelbyLiving.com
“The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood Atwood melds mystery and family drama in this structurally magnificent book, which includes, among other texts, a futuristic novelwithin-a-novel. Though at times it can get tricky, it’s a complete original, which is what Atwood does best. There’s no one quite like her.
“Plainsong” by Kent Haruf One of the quietest, most humane and achingly beautiful books I have ever read. Though it interweaves multiple perspectives, the unadorned prose keeps us intimate with the characters and absolutely grounded in the world of Holt, a rural town in Colorado.