Join us for a conversation between Julia Smith, author of the memoir in essays, The Sum of Trifles, and Joanna Pearson, author of Now You Know It All.
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This first book by Julia Ridley Smith explores the death of the author's parents through the objects they left behind, offering both a poignant meditation on grief and a curious, thoughtful look at the ways that we live in a material culture, where everything from a work of art to a prosthetic leg contains a multitude of meanings. One piece uses her father's hi-fi as a way of talking about jazz, race, and the life of the artist, while another (previously published in the New England Review) zooms in on an antique mourning miniature to tell the story of her mother's final days. The book combines family lore, memories of growing up in the home of two antiques dealers, and an assessment of the narrator's literary and cultural influences as a white woman growing up in the late-twentieth century South. Organized as a series of essays exploring the things her parents left behind, The Sum of Trifles traces Smith's experience of loss as her elderly parents' health declines and they die, leaving the narrator and her family with the task of sorting, donating, and finally selling the contents of their home.
Julia Ridley Smith is the 2021-22 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has also taught creative writing and literature at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ecotone, Electric Literature, the New England Review, and the Southern Review, among other publications. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Poised on the precipice of mystery and longing, each character in Now You Know It All also hovers on the brink of discovery—and decision. Set in small-town North Carolina, or featuring eager Southerners venturing afar, these stories capture the crucial moment of irrevocable change. A young waitress accepts an offer from a beguiling stranger; a troubled boy attempts to unleash the villain from an internet hoax on his party guests; a smitten student finds more than she bargained for in her favorite teacher’s attic; two adult sisters reconvene to uncover a family secret hidden in plain sight. With a sharp eye for rendering inner life, Joanna Pearson has a knack for creating both compassion and a looming sense of threat. Her stories peel back the layers of the narratives we tell ourselves in an attempt to understand the world, revealing that the ghosts haunting us are often the very shadows that we cast.
Joanna Pearson is a lapsed poet who once wrote a children’s book on a whim and nowadays mostly writes fiction. Her second collection of stories, NOW YOU KNOW IT ALL (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021), was selected by Edward P. Jones for the 2021 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Her first collection of stories, EVERY HUMAN LOVE (Acre Books, 2019) was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards, the Foreword INDIES Awards, and the Janet Heidinger Prize for Fiction. Her fiction has appeared in various journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Ecotone, Kenyon Review, Sewanee Review, Subtropics, as well as others, and has been anthologized in The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021, The Best Small Fictions 2019, and Best of the Net 2016. Her stories have been noted six times among the year’s most distinguished in the Best American Short Stories series. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars and an MD from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. A native of western North Carolina, she now lives with her husband and two daughters near Chapel Hill, where she works as a psychiatrist.