Representing those who can’t speak for themselves, Danielle Evans, a professor of fiction at American University, will read as part of the Zell Visiting Writing Series. Tomorrow night, she will read select stories from her collection “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.”

Danielle Evans

Thursday, Sept. 30 at 5:10 p.m.
Helmut Stern Auditorium, UMMA

Her collection’s title comes from a line in “The Bridge Poem” by Donna Kate Rushin.

“There’s a section in the poem about translations, the idea of being in constant negotiation, that speaks to a lot of characters in the book,” Evans said in an interview with the Daily. “It deals with people who don’t often get to tell stories on their own terms, and (is) directed at characters who are making bad decisions where you wish you could say something to them.”

A good deal of Evans’s work deals with race and its effects on an individual’s or group’s perception of themselves and their roles in society.

“I write a lot about people who are a part of a contemporary racial identity. We don’t talk a lot about racial families that have gone through post-integration after immigration,” Evans explained. “That’s something I explore, what it means to sort of know and to think through the very individual ways that people understand those identities.”

Evans also writes about human sexuality and relationships, and how they differ between generations.

“I think about generational issues, like growing up where divorce is more normal and what that means with people interpreting their own adult relationships,” Evans said. “One of the things I was really frustrated about in the fiction I’ve read is people were blinded by love or devotion or something that made them not think things through. I was interested in writing about women who thought things through but did the wrong thing anyway.”

Some of Evans’s stories have come from real-life dialogue that she has observed. Evans said she tends to build off of a certain idea or predict the outcome of a conversation.

“Some lines you may have overheard and thought, ‘That’s interesting to say, who would say that,’ and build a character around that,” Evans said. “Some people come up with the perfect comeback three hours after the conversation is over, and as a fiction writer you can look at those moments and say, ‘What if I said the right thing or knew the right answer?’ ”

Evans takes an improvisational approach to choosing her readings.

“It’s about what you feel like reading that day. There’s days where I love one story, and days where I love another, and some where I feel like reading something more funny or something more serious,” Evans explained. “Sometimes I think about audience — you read something different in a bar than in an auditorium. I think (about) what will be the best for this crowd and context.”

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