Janice Eidus’ short fiction tends to operate on many different levels.
In particular, her short story “Davida’s Own,” part of the collection Vito Loves Geraldine, is about “the ocean as a symbol of family, and childhood and metaphor.”
“I love writing about children,” said Eidus, an novelist, educator and the Week Four prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “I love getting back into the mindset of being a child, experiencing the world anew. I thought that story would be a wonderful choice for Chautauqua, which in many ways is about experiencing the world anew each time we get there.”
At 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, July 19, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch, Eidus will read “Davida’s Own” for an online audience, with the hope that people will take away a sense of “the richness of language, even virtually.”
“I’d like them to be able to enter my world, the world of literature, the world of Chautauqua, and still experience it, even virtually,” said Eidus, a two-time award winner of the O. Henry Prize and the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. “We’ll all be in those little boxes, but I feel that I want the audience to know that I’m really there for them in the same way that I would be if it was in-person.”
Eidus, who will be teaching a week-long workshop on “Voice, Vision, & Re-Vision” through the CHQ Assembly Online Classroom, said she’s interested in unlocking the voices of her audience members through teaching and reading.
“I want to help anybody I have contact with to think about what their voice is — what is their voice that cannot be filled by someone else?” she said. “The workshop is very much about generating new work, and expressing their voice in all sorts of ideas, using prompts and sharing with one another.”
And Eidus’ emphasis on writers’ voices is connected to her interest in writing from the perspective of children.
“When we’re little children, our voices are sort of natural,” she said. “But as we get older, they become suppressed for various reasons. There are lots of ways we find to express them, but I think through the act of generating new work, people will be surprised by the way their voices can be expressed.”
Eidus counts novelist James Baldwin as an influence on her lectures and teaching.
“I recently went back to one of the first short stories of his that I ever read, ‘Sonny’s Blues,’” she said. “I hadn’t read it in years, but it always stayed with me. I hadn’t remembered how connected Baldwin’s prose style was with (the character) Sonny’s jazz music.”
The narrator of the story, Sonny’s brother, witnesses Sonny’s decline as heroin addiction overtakes him and his passion for music.
“I thought there was a stiffness of the prose in the beginning, because the narrator is pushing Sonny away, and then as he comes to understand Sonny more and more and we hear Sonny’s music, the prose becomes so musical and lyrical and poetic,” she said. “I thought that was extraordinary. It was very profound to me.”
The narrator in “Sonny’s Blues” is a perfect example of what Eidus said she means when she talks about voice.
“There’s a lesson for everyone to learn there,” she said.