Rookie Report: Xhenet Aliu
Domesticated Wild Things and Other Stories
University of Nebraska Press
The kids spray themselves with invisible cans of aerosol disinfectant when Feather Ann comes near. You know that this is true in school, in summer camp, at the playground, anywhere packs of young humans gather to prey on the genetically weaker of their peers. She is clearly poorer than most of the other kids in the group, tubby in the belly not from chronic malnutrition like Sally Struthers’ kids but from a lifetime of Head Start breakfasts and free lunches in Sloppy Joe-heavy public school cafeterias. It has not been easy for Feather Ann; you know this, though she does not show it by flinching or looking downward when the kids pull out their invisible aerosol spray cans and back away from her. She is the kind of kid that you’d like to convince of her peers’ near-guaranteed future teen pregnancies and the existence of good things outside of city limits, the kind of kid you’d like to encourage to flee as soon as she has the chance, but the girl has stolen your shoes. She must learn first that that is not cool.
—excerpt from “Feather Ann”
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Xhenet Aliu: Following that wild-eyed lady at the PathMark home.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
XA: The book would like to believe Flannery O’Connor and Studs Turkel, but the book will accept who it really is when it grows up.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
XA: One part small-town newspaper police blotter, one part Eastern European cynicism, one part American dreaminess, and a good dash of a lonely childhood.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
XA: Lolita. I read it when I was far too young but loved it anyway, and I’ll never be far too young again.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
XA: Honestly, I’m not asked many questions about writing, so I’d welcome most any. But if someone asked, “Why do you write funny stories?” I would answer that I’m actually trying to break hearts, but first I have to get people to put down their dukes.
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Xhenet Aliu, winner of the 2012 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, has worked as a secretary, waitress, entertainment journalist, private investigator, and librarian/archivist, among other vocations. Her fiction has appeared in journals such as Glimmer Train, Hobart, and The Barcelona Review, and she has received multiple scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and a grant from The Elizabeth George Foundation. Currently, she lives in Athens, Georgia, after recent stints in New York City, Montana, and Utah. She is at work on a novel set in her hometown of Waterbury, Conn., former brass manufacturing capital of the world.