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Indy Underground unearths fresh voices



Victoria Barrett
  • Victoria Barrett
Corydon-based crime writer Frank Bill will make his first local appearance this week as part of Indy Underground, an occasional series of readings presented by the Writers’ Center of Indiana and devoted to presenting new work in a relaxed, informal setting. He’ll be joined by Victoria Barrett, who is coordinating the event and will read her own work. Barrett, who teaches writing at Ball State and the Writers’ Center, recently launched a boutique press, Engine Books, devoted to new works of fiction. A mission statement lays out plans for the press to publish four titles per year, two by female writers. Barrett spoke about the series and fiction being produced in Indiana.

NUVO: What’s the idea behind the Indy Underground series? What kind of authors do you try to bring in?

Barrett: Indy Underground was started by the author Will Allison when he lived in Indianapolis and served on the Board of the Writers' Center in order to provide a less academic, more celebratory reading series to complement the excellent university readings we have at Butler, IUPUI and University of Indianapolis. The series has always featured lively writers, beer or wine, and great venues. We feature a local writer alongside our visitor. Last summer we brought in Donald Ray Pollock. He read from the then-unfinished novel The Devil All the Time, which has now had a fabulous debut. Earlier this year, Alan Heathcock read from his story collection Volt — along with Allison Lynn, who we’re really privileged to have living in Indy and teaching at Butler, reading from her next novel. All of those readers and books are terrific, but I’m particularly excited to feature Frank Bill, an Indiana writer just now making it big. We love writers whose work is fresh and energetic and new.

NUVO: What do you think of Frank Bill’s work? Is it rare for an Indiana author to score a two-book deal with a major publishing house?

Barrett: Frank’s book is going to be — is becoming already — that rare book that transcends its genre without betraying it, that walks the line between crime and literary. It’s living in the best of both worlds, with the sales potential of crime fiction but the credentials of literary writing.

Indiana has produced a ton of great writers, many of whom have done well in big publishing, whether they’ve stayed or gone: Patricia Henley, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Christopher Coake. Now, a strong crop of young writers (30-something is young for a writer) is coming up in the city, writing terrific books, just making their ways into the publishing world. Within a few years, books are going to be pouring out of this area; two- book deals will be no surprise whatsoever.

Indiana resists a concrete literary identity in the way that it resists an easy identity generally. And geography matters less and less to the business of writing. I don't think that, right now, it’s any more surprising to see an Indiana writer than a writer anywhere get a great contract. But the question is going to become moot in the fairly near future.

Indy Underground Reading Series featuring Frank Bill and Victoria Barrett
The Irving Theater, 5505 E. Washington St.
Thursday, Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m., free, all-ages; beer and wine available


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