Short story author to read at Catawba

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 13, 2012

By Forrest Anderson
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — Laura van den Berg, author of the prizewinning short story collection, “What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us,” will read at Catawba College on Wednesday. The event is free and open to the public.
“What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us” received the 2007 Dzanc Prize and was published by Dzanc Books in October 2009. The collection opens with the story, “Where We Must Be,” about a failed actress who finds work playing Bigfoot in a theme park designed for people who desperately seek a run-in with the creature. This unusual and remarkable story strikes the tone for the rest of the collection, which is set around the globe in places as exotic as the Congo and Madagascar and as ho-hum as Massachusetts and California.
As expected, the stories are wickedly funny and delightful. That said, however, they aren’t just quirky and wacky ideas. The failed actress in “Where We Must Be” is simultaneously caring for her neighbor dying of cancer. The husband in “Up High in the Air,” who obsesses over the possible existence of a mythical beast in Lake Michigan, is facing the knowledge of his wife’s affair. The daughter in the collection’s title story, who has a peculiar talent for reciting random lists, is taken out of her high school and carted off to Madagascar. While her mother leaves her alone for days at a time to study lemurs with a zoologist friend, she struggles to understand who she is in her newly upturned life.
The beauty of the stories is the writer’s ability to blend the magical and the realistic in a way that reminds the reader of the strangeness of everyday life. It’s no surprise that van den Berg was invited to be the winter term writer-in-residence at Salem College where she is teaching a class on the magical in fiction.
Van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. Her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals and has been anthologized in “Best New American Voices 2010,” “Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008” and “The Pushcart Prize XXIV.” “What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us” was selected in 2009 for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Award — the world’s richest prize for the short story.
Van den Berg will read from her collection on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Tom Smith Auditorium at Catawba College. In addition, Catawba College student Kara Procell will read a selection from her story, “The Earthshine Summer,” forthcoming in “Grey Sparrow Journal.”
If you have any questions, please email or call Forrest Anderson at or 704-637-4279.