Arts & Culture

Two Books, Two Genres: Dr. Gil Allen's Upcoming Double Book Launch

Dr. Gil Allen discusses his upcoming double book release scheduled for Nov. 10.

Dr. Gil Allen is a rare combination of both poet and fiction writer. Dr. Gil Allen

A book launch is a momentous occasion because it represents months, or even years, of hard work, writing, editing, revising and marketing. On Nov. 10, Dr. Gil Allen, the recently retired Bennett E. Geer Professor of Literature in the Furman English Department, will be releasing not one, but two books. One, The Beasts of Belladonna, is a collection of short stories loosely related to the stories found in Dr. Allen’s previous book, The Final Days of Great American Shopping. The other is a new collection of poetry called Believing in Two Bodies. 

Allen is a rare combination of both poet and fiction writer. He said, “While I was an undergraduate at Cornell, I wrote mainly short fiction, but in graduate school, I found my stories getting shorter and more language-intensive, so I began focusing on poetry.” During his time at Furman, however, Allen rediscovered his love for short fiction while teaching creative writing workshops for students who were more passionate about fiction than poetry. Inspired by his students, he picked up short story writing once more. He said, “I loved it, and I’ve been writing several stories a year for more than three decades.” 

The inspiration for Beasts of Belladonna came largely from the forty-three years Allen spent living in upstate South Carolina. He shared that “it has become my world, so I write about it.” When asked about the characters in his stories, he said, “Most of the characters in my short stories have a point of contact with my own experience. That is, there’s something about their appearance, or personality, or predicament, that’s linked to what I’ve encountered in the world.” But not all of the characters in his stories are directly derived from his life. Eventually, as the stories progress, the characters in Allen’s stories take on a life of their own. He added, “I know a story’s moving in the right direction when a character seems to be telling me that, despite my conscious intentions, he or she needs to do something else.” 

Even though Allen’s two published collections of short stories were created to stand on their own, they are both written in the same setting and with a similar theme in mind. Allen explained that he wanted to be “consistent with the world of Belladonna that’s evolved in my work over the years.” He also said, “I think folks who read the Final Days of Great American Shopping will deepen their understanding of The Beasts of Belladonna and vice versa.” 

According to Allen, Believing in Two Bodies is the best book of poetry he has ever written and is “certainly the most ambitious in scope.” This particular book is about both personal history and national history across the past century. He said, “One important theme of Believing in Two Bodies is that our individual bodies and the body politic are inextricably linked.” Allen said that he has started to work more and more in traditional meter, rather than free verse: “I have always been fascinated by poetic form…Lines in prose are a byproduct of the printing process…lines in poetry are always preserved.” This fascination with form and the theme of personal history are both important facets of his upcoming collection. 

Even as these two collections are being released, Allen is already working on several more projects. While these future collections may take several years to find their way into the world, Allen has begun the process of compiling several new collections of poems, as well as two new books of short stories, tentatively called The Beauties of Belladonna and Belladonna Solutions Incorporated. 

The Furman English department is hosting an event on Zoom to celebrate this book launch and applaud Dr. Allen’s hard work on Nov. 10 from 4-5 pm. If you are interested in being part of this event, please email melissa.browning@furman.edu

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