Award-winning author to talk at IUB on Monday

By Missy Smith

Award-winning short story author Andrew Porter brings his gift for narrative to the Champaign-Urbana community Monday for a book reading at at the Illini Union Bookstore.

Interested students can join Porter on Monday at the Illini Union Bookstore at 4:30 p.m. to hear advice from a writer who has been a student and struggled to get to where he is today. Students can listen to the storytelling that colleagues rave about and learn a few things from the author about what it takes to write well.

Porter, 36, weaves in and out of suburban living in “The Theory of Light and Matter.”

Published in the fall of 2008, Porter describes the collection as having a common tie, namely, the suburban setting, which links the seemingly different stories into one big picture.

“The stories are interested in exploring the types of conflicts that arise in the suburbs,” Porter said. “They are very much about memory and the way those memories shape storytelling. A lot of the stories are interested in the way we remember dramatic events that have happened in our past.”

Friend and fellow writer Adam Scott, of Champaign, said he believes Porter’s writing style appeals to University students.

“I hate to say he is a master, but he has a masterful approach to the short story,” Scott said. “He cares a lot about form and he works hard to create well-crafted short stories. There aren’t many people who are still doing that.”

Porter has been writing for 10 years, but most of the stories in the collection are from the past five years. Twenty stories later, he said he had to select the stories that would make it into the final collection.

“I never quite know where they come from,” Porter said. “I usually start by exploring a character and their relationships. As I learn more about the characters, the story starts to tell itself.”

Porter said he plans to continue to write short stories, but his plans for the future also include finally penning a novel after years of writing short fiction.

“I think the short story is the form that I fell in love with,” Porter said. “And in my heart, I always loved short stories. I can’t imagine that I would stop writing them because I am writing a novel.”

In fact, the San Antonio Express-News placed Porter’s work on its list of the best books in 2008. Billy Taylor, author of “Based on the Movie,” said it was his favorite book of the year.

The Express-News reports that “Andrew Porter can achieve more in a handful of pages than most writers can in a hundred.”

The review says that even after reading the stories several times, a reader will “continue to marvel at how they can be so spare and rich at the same time.”

It is Porter’s concise wording and storytelling ability that won him the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction. Because he won the award, the University of Georgia press published his collection.

“It was a tremendous honor and I was thrilled,” Porter said. “I was thrilled with the incredible response and the amount of exposure the book has received. I am grateful the book has done so well. This is my first book and I didn’t have any idea what to expect. You never know until it is out there, so you just sit and wait nervously. I was thrilled the response was so good and so many people seemed to be interested.”

Porter is no stranger to the university setting – he teaches at Trinity University in San Antonio. He encourages students to pursue their dreams no matter what.

“Every writer encounters setbacks,” Porter said. “The thing that distinguishes writers who go on to publish books is that they have the ability to persevere. Writing is just about hard work and perseverance.”