Allegra Hyde is the winner of the 2016 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Her debut story collection, OF THIS NEW WORLD (University of Iowa Press), is our feature today. She is young, fresh, and ready for you to buy a copy of her book, which offers a menagerie of utopias: real, imagined, and otherwise.
Q. What was your process for putting together this collection?
A. Of This New World emerged organically from my longtime fascination with utopian communities. I’ve always been drawn to groups of people seeking to live out an ideal—groups like the Shakers or the hippie communes of sixties. No matter how well planned these utopian endeavors are, conflicts inevitably emerge. This is ripe territory for a fiction writer! Of This New World starts with a retelling of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden and ends in a Mars colony. The collection includes stories told using conventions of science fiction, historical fiction, realism, absurdism, and other modes, but every story offers a different way of considering the utopian experience.
Q. How long did it take from start to finish to complete the collection?
A. I wrote “Free Love,” a story about an uprooted flower child, back in 2009. The story was later published in the Bellevue Literary Review—my first appearance in a print journal—and this publication gave me the confidence to keep going. The rest of the stories emerged in the subsequent years, the last one being written in the spring of 2015. I received the news that Of This New World would be published in January 2016.
Q. Who read your drafts?
A. My husband, Alex McElroy, is also a writer. We met in the MFA program at Arizona State University, so you could say our relationship was born from a fiction workshop. For better or worse, we work closely as writing partners: exchanging draft after draft of our stories. Alex has read my book, Of This New World, more times than either of us can count.
Q. Did you use an agent? If not, why not?
A. I didn’t use an agent. Conventional literary wisdom seems to be that agents avoid short story collections, so I decided to go the contest route. There are actually quite a few contests out there, including the Iowa Short Fiction Award series run by University of Iowa Press, which I ended up winning.
Q. What is your best rejection story?
A. A few years ago, I wrote a deeply personal story called “Bury Me.” I showed it to a professor who suggested several literary journals as possible homes for the story, though he said specifically that The Missouri Review probably wouldn’t be interested. After unsuccessfully submitting “Bury Me” to numerous journals and contests, I started to believe the story would never go anywhere. On a whim, I submitted to The Missouri Review. Several months later, I received an acceptance letter from TMR’s editors. Even better: the story was later selected for inclusion in The Pushcart Prize anthology.
Q Where were you when you received the offer for the book to be published?
A. I was actually living in Bulgaria when I received an email from Jim McCoy of University of Iowa Press. He wanted me to give him a call, but I had to wait about six hours for our time zones to align. Those were a long six hours!
Q. What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward publication?
A. I must turn to Anne Lamott for this one: “I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”