Chick Lit, Memphis-Style



A lively essay that compares public-school education to a deconstructed hamburger with all the trimmings: That's "An Education on Education," by an author, with a master's in education, named Shelonda Richardson. (Lesson learned: Let's make that burger — our kids' educations — well-done.)

Addison Odum's "Wedding Cake": That's the fictional story of a photographer, a wedding crasher, and a woman with a sex-toy fetish. (Lesson learned: Crasher and fetishist make for a handsome couple — and good photo.)

A 14-year-old girl in the back seat of a car barreling down a gravel road and taking her first hits off of a cigar: That's Paulette Regan's "First Cigar." (Lesson learned: "You're better than any old boy," says the girl's Uncle George and to his niece's delight.)

What are Richardson, Odum, and Regan doing inside one volume of writings? They were all picked by Eva Morris to contribute to Morris' Memphis-based Red Hot Chick Lit Review (from Memphis-based Tiger Publishing), and if it's variety you want, variety's what you get.

"It is indeed all about the variety," Morris said by email. "Red Hot Chicks: young, not so young, black, white, professors and graduate students, green talent and published, accomplished voices — the best 10 female writers out of Memphis."

Pam McGaha's "My Little Man" and Tobacco Brown's "Return to My Mother's Garden" are slice-of-life memory pieces. More memorable: Anna Esquivale's sparring couple heading by car into the desert (but to who knows where in their relationship) in "The Desert"; Willonee S.'s lesbian couple — one member of that couple digging back into, one night, her drug habit and the arms of another woman (thus ending the couple's relationship) — in the gritty "Last Call for Powdered Promises"; and Jaclyn Schaffer's naughty rhyming wordplay in "Don't Be Yellow," "How the Prostitute Perfected Her Posture," and "Twins."

(Question posed in "Don't Be Yellow," in its entirety and a question to consider of battling couples everywhere: "Why, one wonders, do we stay yoked,/ when we could be yielding instead?// For when we are yoked, we are truly a yawn,/ When yielding, we're better in bed.")

The highlight here: Ellen Prewitt's "A Trip to the Lawyer," which shows us what a grand thing a traditional short story — concentrated action; limited setting; revealing characterizations; telling details — can be.

All in all: Memphis writers to watch.

Hand it to Eva Morris, pictured below right in a photograph by Ralph Bowling and the woman behind Red Hot Chick Lit Review. She fielded the submissions. She mounted an evening of readings from the book at Minglewood Hall. And she's the author of the pieces that close and open the collection: "Ode to Hunter S. Thompson" and "The Wisdom and Strength of a Grasshopper."

"Ode," which has Morris directing her sexy, thoroughbred self before Thompson at his home in Colorado, wades a little too deep to count even as stream of consciousness. Could the piece have used more conventional editing? Is the piece better off performed, as Morris, indeed, has?

But outpouring, wordwise, "Ode" certainly is — and a good glimpse into Morris' twin passions: originality in writing (witness her worship of Thompson) and high-energy endorsement of any cause she adopts (witness her commitment to seeing this project through to publication).

"Grasshopper," Morris' short-short story of an American girl in Japan who lends her support to an anti-nuclear protest, forfeits a college scholarship, and becomes a successful aerobics teacher, is on firmer narrative ground than "Ode to Hunter S. Thompson." It's more instructive too. The lesson it contains (and Morris knows it after the work she's put into Red Hot Chick Lit Review):

"Listen, it's hard to make a stand," the narrator in "The Wisdom and Strength of a Grasshopper" concludes. "Life will lead you every which way, but you have to dream big, then, believe — Live it! ... Take a risk, take a chance, and fear nothing. ... Persistence and endurance will pull you through; Go, go, go!"

And go: to for more on Red Hot Chick Lit Review, on the woman behind it, and on the women writers in it.

Astrid Rosset, wife of the late Barney Rosset — who owned Grove Press, served as editor in chief of Evergreen Review, and championed Morris' work — thinks Red Hot Chick Lit Review definitely worth a look. As Morris said recently by email, "When I presented this book to Barney Rosset's widow, she said, 'These days, NO ONE is putting time or money into literature and the arts, unless it's a sure thing, like a John Grisham. It's refreshing to see this variety [in Red Hot Chick Lit Review]. Reminds me of Evergreen Review!'

"That's what Astrid Rosset liked most about the book," Morris added. "And she sees a lot of books!"

See for yourself. You can find Red Hot Chick Lit Review on Amazon. Keep it local, though, by buying it at the Booksellers at Laurelwood out east and at Burke's Book Store in Midtown.

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