The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 24, 2013

MSU's Catt lands award, Good Thunder reading with arresting prose

By Tanner Kent
Free Press Features Editor

MANKATO — Alicia Catt’s prose may not be for everyone. Namely, those too squeamish or too modest to step into the raw viscera of human relationships, to soil their hands and stain their clothes with storytelling so deeply vulnerable that the reader feels a voyeur to continue the next page. 

Where sweaty proximity leaves skin red and raw, where bruises are deep and purple from submission, where fetishized hotel room encounters and middle school cafeteria nightmares leave discernible scars — these are where Catt’s writings begin. With arresting honesty, the creative nonfiction writer does more than explore the soft tissue of relationships. Rather, she digs her nails in deep, picking and clawing at the scabs of her life experience.

“I like writing about the body and about identities,” said Catt, a Minnesota State University master’s student in creative writing and winner of the department’s 2013 Robert C. Wright Award who is giving a reading during today’s installment of the Good Thunder Reading Series. She will be joined by award-winning fiction writer Alan Davis. “I like writing about what it means to be a woman, and to be a woman in a small town.”

In “If Across Oceans You Find Yourself a Stranger,” Catt flatly exposes the rise and fall of a brief and tumultuous marriage, foretelling its sexual excess, spite-filled rages and destructive conclusion in an opening passage: “This is how a marriage can break: you love until your love becomes a weapon. This is how you lose a husband: tear him down, drive him away. Then drive away.”

In “Going Down on Polypropylene,” Catt bares the fratricidal brutality of middle school social heirarchies. But rather than casting herself solely as victim — and she is certainly that as boys hurl slurs at her chubby thighs while she runs the mile and popular girls spill a beaker of brine shrimp in her hair during science class — Catt gives witness to her own violence. When the new girl at school is placed on a social rung even beneath her own, the speaker alternately befriends and backstabs in order to preserve her social promotion: “How shameful it feels, but how delicious, too, to sense your station rising one tiny notch, from scapegoat to invisible. You pledge to hold your own there, whatever brutality that might take.”

In “On Saliva,” which is the piece Catt submitted for the Wright Award application, the author deftly interweaves an exhaustive informational dossier on spit with carnal recollections both degrading and empowering. 

Catt’s writing in all cases is naked, introspective and unwaveringly self-analytical. And though it may be hard for some readers not to look away, Catt said she does not censor herself and doesn’t bother with judgments.

“I don’t want to say I’m a gross person, but I like gross things,” she said hesitantly, chuckling a bit to soften the edges of what she’d say next: “I guess I kind of don’t care what people think about me.”

The care she shows for her writing, however, is evident.

Her voice is rhythmic, sometimes coming softly in measured cadence, other times delivering with blunt trauma. And her pieces read like ruminations on a theme, alternately unified and tangential, with very little scene-specific storytelling.

“I like shorter styles because they are more condensed,” Catt said. “The words have to be right on, the rhythms have to be right on.”

Writing primarily poetry and short essays, Catt has had her work published in a variety of literary journals. “On Saliva” will be published this fall in 1966: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction; her latest work, “Dirty Panty Factory,” is forthcoming in the The Pinch Literary Journal.

For examples of her work, visit http://about.me/aliciacatt.

More about Alan Davis

Davis was raised in New Orleans and holds degrees from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and the University of Denver. He teaches now in the MFA programs at Fairfield University and Minnesota State University-Moorhead, where he is also a Senior Editor at New Rivers Press. His recent book of stories, “So Bravely Vegetative,” won the Prize Americana for Fiction.

His two previous short story collections both won the Minnesota Voices Project competition. He has also won two Fulbright awards, the Loft-McKnight Award of Distinction in Creative Prose, and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.