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Chris Stuck favors the ‘off-kilter’ in short fiction on race

illo of chris stuck for booksDavid Wilson for The Boston Globe

In the first story of Chris Stuck’s debut fiction collection, “Give My Love to the Savages,” a man recalls all the times in his life he’s been called the n-word. “It’s probably the most autobiographical story I’ve ever written,” Stuck said. “Probably the most autobiographical story I’ll ever write.”

The first time was in Kindergarten. “That actually happened. I was five years old when it first happened. I know other people who were around that age when it happened,” said Stuck, who grew up in Virginia, the son of a Black mother and white father.

Some of the other stories in the collection hew less closely to the real. In one, a man wakes up one morning to find he has been transformed in to a six-foot-tall, walking and talking penis — a metamorphosis that owes something to Kafka, of course, but also to Stuck’s own flair for the surreal. “I was trying to write stories that I’d never seen before, and stories that I wanted to read,” he said. “I like things that are off-kilter.”

Writing about race and racism leads naturally into strange material, Stuck observed. “I’m trying to blend realism and absurdism and see if I can come up with something interesting,” he said. “A lot of Black writers that I admire do that.”


In fashioning inventive narratives that often blend or bend genres to talk about race, Stuck mentioned Black writers like Paul Beatty, Colson Whitehead, Victor LaValle, and Mat Johnson as proof that “there’s space for different Black writing, new stories. Sometimes I feel a little weird when I write funny, or what I think is funny stuff,” he added. “Sometimes with literary stuff, people don’t take [humor] as seriously. Basically I’m just trying to write for people like me.”

Chris Stuck will read and be in conversation with Chaya Bhuvaneswar at 7 p.m. Friday, July 9, in a virtual event hosted by Brookline Booksmith.


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.