Welcome back to a new blog series from the Virginia Center for the Book, in which we highlight the work of one Virginia writer each week. This week’s spotlight is on Henry Hoke, author of Genevieves (winner of the Subito Press prose contest) and The Book of Endless Sleepovers. His recent work appears in Electric Literature, Joyland, Winter Tangerine, and Carve. He co-created and directs Enter>text: a living literary journal, and teaches at CalArts and the UVA Young Writers Workshop.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I’ve had countless starts and re-starts. One start was drawing comic strips inspired by Calvin and Hobbes as soon as I’d learned how to read, one was writing fantastical stories and poems for the Fralin (then Bayly) Art Museum’s Writer’s Eye competition, one was carving curse words into a tree. I spent a handful of years writing and creating films and plays, and then my most recent start was cobbling together all the genres I’d dabbled in to create literary work while earning my MFA at California Institute of the Arts, which led to my books.
Describe your work in three sentences or less.
Fiction that’s unafraid to bleed out into poetry and memoir, stealing names from familiar sources and making them strange. Gender and genre-bending explorations of childhood hauntings and cinematic secrets. Whole books made of finely-hewn fragments, each enamored with the endless possibilities of language.
How does living in Virginia influence your writing?
I spent all of my kid years in Virginia and the deeper south, and live there every summer as faculty-in-residence at the UVA Young Writers Workshop (now hosted at Sweet Briar College). So my writing is emerald green, humid and ghost-riddled. Many stories take place in a spiritual Virginia, whether or not the location is explicitly stated. An in-between place, old and ugly and also in flux, southern expat gothic. The artistic weirdness of 1990s Charlottesville was crucial to what actually happened to me, and therefore what fueled my literary work.
Ooh. My Genevieves are my children, hard to choose. There are many moments where I have the book reach out and grab you, like in these two passages from the penultimate story:
Before we start: I need everyone to turn to the person on your left and say, “Why won’t you look at me?”
This is a choose-your-own-adventure. Not this story, this story and what happens in it is set in stone and you can’t have any effect on it. I mean, y’know, THIS is a choose your own adventure, this everything. You can sit down. Or not.
I like doing that. We should never forget that we’re reading a book, communing with an author. Keep the connection humming.
What are you working on next?
My next two books are novels. One is basically make-believe and it’s about film students trapped in a vicious sequel. The other is basically true and it’s about a southern dad and his two adult-ish sons on the run from death in Europe.
To learn more about Henry Hoke, visit his website at henry-hoke.com
Through this series, we hope to showcase the depth and breadth of our state-wide literary community while also encouraging readers in the Commonwealth and elsewhere to challenge themselves to read more books by Virginia writers. If you have an author you’d like to suggest for this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with details. Our focus is on writers with books that have been published in the past two years (self-published is welcome as long as the writer’s most recent book is held in at least one public library in the state).