Short story writer and novelist Anne Valente, who is best known for her works such as “By Light We Knew Our Names” and “Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down,” brings together a diverse range of topics and plays them all off of each other.
The award-winning author shared her talent with the campus for The Geneseo Literary Forum’s second fall reading of the semester on Friday Oct. 20.
Valente read her short story, “Tell Us You Were Here,” which combines ghosts, tectonic shifts, abusive relationships, horses and dreams. The chief theme of the story shows how troubled people can lean on ideas of the supernatural to deal with their problems. All these themes were addressed thoughtfully throughout the work. Valente’s other works deal with similar subjects, such as the supernatural combining with the ordinary to offer the grief-stricken form of respite.
In “Tell Us You Were Here,” the narrator’s voice is presented as frantic and unstable, repeating elements and dwelling on disturbing memories, but it is also beautiful.
“There was famine in her voice,” is one of many lines that stands out. One could almost let oneself drift away listening to ornate sentences flowing together, as the plot of “Tell Us You Were Here” has as much merit as its language.
Although the story spoke on subjects such as the death of a child and domestic abuse, a reader could feel sympathetic toward the characters and connect with them as they search to seek some form of escape from their plights. As much as Valente breaks the traditional rules—her pieces sometimes resembling lyric essays or prose poetry—she also keeps her writing accessible. The piece she read never felt unnecessarily difficult to sit through, despite the often violent nature of the subject matter.
“You know readings of fiction, short stories and stuff are really tough to stay engaged with because we’re not used to hearing short stories in that kind of medium,” English and philosophy major senior Frank Bruno said. “But this one really drew me in and I was very pleasantly surprised.”
Readings like this can give a student something to think about on their walks around campus and in the fleeting moments of consciousness before settling into sleep. Readings like this quell any complaints that every topic has already been addressed, that literature is the telling of one story over and over throughout the ages.
It’s really life-affirming that a single short story can be the motivation needed to break up routine.
You may try your best to describe Valente’s writing, but you may never do it justice. The best bet is to pick up her work yourself and see the full scope of her artistic creations.u