Wander Into Uncharted Amazements With Gina Berriault (Or, Why The Award Is Named After Her)

Join us on April 15 as Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review and the Creative Writing Department honor former faculty member and author, Gina Berriault, at the 2nd Annual Gina Berriault Award Reading. This year’s award recipient is Adam Johnson. Peter Orner will host the event.

In 1997, when Gina Berriault was selected by Andre Dubus, Cynthia Ozick, and Tobias Wolff to receive the Rea Award for the Short Story, the judges wrote:

"Her stories astonish -- not only in their range of character and incident, but in their worldliness, their swift and surprising turns, their penetration into palpable love and grief and hope.…To discover Berriault is to voyage into uncharted amazements."

Later, in a New York Times Magazine article, Ozick would lament the relative obscurity that Berriault (and Dubus) faced throughout their careers, praising their passion and purity. She called them “writer’s writers,” because they were critically hailed but otherwise unknown.

Berriault’s work has a way of setting you down and kneading into you. Her words echo within sentences to form planks for which thoughts often lead to one’s own abyss. Peter Orner talks about this in his column about her story “Around the Dear Ruin” from Women In Their Beds (1996). He calls it one of the “saddest and cruelest” stories about San Francisco, a city where Berriault made her home.

We dare you to roam the city digesting her words. San Francisco, the world, has a way of opening up, as if pulling away a flank of flesh to say: Look, this too is here. Know that Berriault’s work offers these wonderful discoveries, but be prepared, for she will wrestle your heart, and wrench it ever so tenderly.

Of course, none have put it as fittingly as Leonard Gardner in his forward to The Tea Ceremony (2003), a posthumous book of uncollected and previously unpublished writing. This book offers a rare glimpse into Berriault’s process. Mr. Gardner, who will be in attendance at the Berriault Award reading, said in his heartfelt and candid forward that her work, like that of the greatest writers, deepens.

Berriault rejected the notion that there was a “correct” interpretation to a piece of fiction. “Each reader’s interpretation originates in his or her life’s experiences,” she said, “in feelings and emotions of intensely personal history.” This attitude is reflective of a writer who found it necessary to look into others; a writer that with every story embodied a certain selflessness and unflinching compassion.

The Berriault Award is given annually to a writer whom we believe will make similar contributions to fiction. Who will look unflinchingly into their characters, and who will deepen their readers, treating them always as equals. This year, we are proud to have our recipient, Adam Johnson, reading from his work. Join us:

April 15, 7pm
The Poetry Center
Humanities Building, Room 512
San Francisco State University (View map)
Cost: Free!

Please RSVP here. And stay tuned for an in-depth look at Adam Johnson, this year’s recipient of the Gina Berriault Award. We’ll see you there.

-Fernando Pujals, Fourteen Hills fiction editor

1 comment:

  1. "Berriault’s work has a way of setting you down and kneading into you. Her words echo within sentences to form planks for which thoughts often lead to one’s own abyss." That's just gorgeous!