The University of Iowa

At the Reading: Simon Van Booy and Lucas Hunt

By Denise Jarrott

Listen: Simon Van Booy and Lucan Hunt reading | June 6, 2013

In a recent issue of Iowa City mainstay culture magazine Little Village, staff writer Stephanie Catlett brilliantly articulated my thoughts on Simon VanBooy, a novelist I'd seen read from his previous novel Everything Beautiful Began After when I started working at Prairie Lights two years ago: "Van Booy is an unapologetically romantic writer, which is refreshing in a literary landscape that often shuns the sentimental in favor of the graphically, violently 'real.' "

I think I agree with Catlett on this point. In a literary landscape where stand-offish can be repackaged as "stylish" and empty shock value can be re-branded as "raw", Simon Van Booy's writing as well as his personality seem to be transported from a different time. In a culture where we must keep our distance and yet social media can provide a kind of invisibility cloak that allows freedom to be as explicit as we want, Van Booy seems to look you in the eye through his tortoise shell glasses and say "it's wonderful to meet you" with absolute sincerity. When so little is said without a coat of irony, those words are worth listening to.

Van Booy isn't all persona, however. At his reading this past Sunday, he allowed the audience a glimpse into his process: Van Booy collects objects that his characters would own: a blind woman's textural dresses and very specific perfume. Documents from another character's grief-stricken life staying in hotels around the world. I admire this method of writing, as if it is a small attempt to make the world in a writer's mind manifest in some small way, to make the characters in one's stories as real as possible. Along with these solid objects, Van Booy also draws from Buddhist writings, the title of his novel is from the writings of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

Lucas Hunt, a friend of Van Booy's, read from his poems. Hunt explained that he began as a fiction writer, but turned to poetry to keep himself alive. These beginnings in narrative were evident in the poems in his collection, Lives -- works with sweeping landscapes (be they Midwestern or set near the ocean in Hunt's current home in the Hamptons) and peopled with real human beings and their desires. Hunt grew up in Iowa, working on a pig farm for a dollar an hour from the age of ten. After telling us this, Hunt says jokingly, he holds up his foot, (he is wearing bright green Top Siders) "You couldn't wear these on the farm". These stories of a midwestern childhood turned a life near the ocean rang true for me, and I'm sure other midwestern children who have read one too many Fitzgerald stories and have a hunger to be near the ocean, away from a world that insults you for being sincere, or wanting something other than the life that is prescribed to you.

Both of these writers seem to understand an idea that is gradually being lost: that the places and people that we meet make us into the people that we are.

Simon Van Booy and Lucas Hunt's June 16 reading can be heard here:

Simon's previous readings: