Local author to present award-winning novel at Centenary College

SHREVEPORT, LA — Local writer Ashley Mace Havird will present two readings at Centenary this fall from her award-winning debut novel, Lightningstruck. Havird will read from the novel at Centenary's English Department Colloquium on October 5 and at a reading/signing event at the Meadows Museum of Art on December 1. Both events are free and open to the public.

Havird has previously published three collections of poems and won the 2013 X.J. Kennedy Prize for her collection The Garden of the Fugitives (Texas Review Press, 2014). She moved into new literary territory with the novel Lightningstruck, which was published by Mercer University Press on September 1, 2016. Richard Bausch, editor of The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, noted in a review, "It's rare these days to find a good poet who can also write fine fiction. It turns out Ashley Mace Havird is one of these."

"The process of writing the novel was similar to writing poetry, but also different in a number of ways," says Havird. "Of course, there was the length factor – one or two pages verses 250 or more. Yet for me, the same attention and focus that applies to writing a poem applied to each of those 250 pages. In both the poems and in fiction, I am conscious of the interconnectedness of every element – but the elements are different in nature. As a lyric poet, I try to capture a convergence of imagery and feeling that is reminiscent of a documentary photograph. It might contain story or imply story, but it doesn't tell story."

Set in rural South Carolina in 1964, Lightningstruck is a coming of age story that leads readers through an exploration of the complex relationships and social tensions of the Civil Rights-era South. The narrator and guide is 11-year-old Etta McDaniel, who is transitioning from childhood to adolescence while trying to understand and navigate the minefield of segregation and racism that underpins and ultimately poisons the relationships and social structures of her community.

Lightningstruck has already met with critical acclaim. Reviewer Robert L. Pincus chose the first chapter of the novel as "Best in Show" in the literary competition of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council's Critical Mass 4 exhibit. Havird's debut was also selected for the 2015 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction from Mercer University Press, an annual honor given to the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context.

Havird grew up on a tobacco farm in South Carolina in the late 1950s through the 1960s, and the physical and social landscapes of her early life have provided much of the material for her poetry and fiction. Her writing is continually evolving, exploring tensions in relationships between humans and the natural world, within families, and between history and the present, often from a feminist perspective.

"I am working on a completely different sort of novel set in the future that is not autobiographical in the least, except that its central character is a 'Swimmer' (I love to swim) who ends up on an island based upon one I've visited many times," says Havird. "And I have amassed a whole slew of poem drafts that are far from finished, centering on the dangerous subjects of parents and dogs."

In addition to Lightningstruck and her three poetry collections, Havird has published poems in journals and anthologies including Shenandoah, The Southern Review, and Hard Lines: Rough South Poetry (University of South Carolina Press, 2016). She has also served as an adjunct professor of creative writing at Centenary.

The English Department Colloquium featuring Havird will be held on Wednesday, October 5 at noon in the Centenary Room of Bynum Commons. The reading and signing at the Meadows Museum begins at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 1.

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