Meet Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, the winner of this year's C. Michael Curtis Story Story Book Prize for her story collection Sleepovers, chosen by Lauren Groff, who calls Ashleigh's work "incantatory...fully committed to the truth no matter how dark or difficult or complicated it may be." We caught up with her to ask about her book, what's inspiring her now, and what she's doing when she isn't writing short stories.
Ashleigh Bryant Phillips: Sleepovers collects some of my earliest stories up until now. I write about my mile long hometown, and the woods and fields out from it. Nobody really comes through unless they know somebody there. So it’s really neat that now some folks outside home will get to see it. I wrote these stories in my Meredith College dorm room and at DH Hill library late into the night, on my childhood bed and in my boyfriends’ kitchens, during slow shifts at my sales jobs and with all the wonderful dogs I dog sat during my MFA in Wilmington. So dogs come up in the collection right naturally!
ABP: I didn’t know this about myself until someone pointed it out to me the other day but more often than not it’s pretty hard for me to find a book I like enough and will commit to reading.
With that said, I just finished re-reading The Correspondence by J.D. Daniels, an excellent hybrid collection of essays and short stories. “Letter From Kentucky” is my favorite.
I also just finished Water & Power by Steven Dunn and it’s one of those works where after you put it down you’re like, “Damn, now I know what a book oughta do!” It pushes what you think is possible!
I’m currently reading William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life by Steve Almond. It’s basically Almond’s critical meditation on the John Williams novel Stoner. I loved Stoner but this takes me to another level. I’ve underlined so much of it so far!
And every day inspires me. There’s enough hurt and joy down to every single minute if you’re willing to see it!
ABP: Being born in the rural South for me meant that all my kin lived down the road and we all got baptized in the same church across a swamp bridge. It also meant that before I was even born there were all these stories waiting for me to inherit them. At home, trees and tables and aunts have stories. Aprons and preachers and corn have stories. And everyone here listens to them not because they’re “stories” but because that’s just the way of life here—everybody’s got time to listen.
ABP: I used to do a lot more when I lived back in the city. But here in the country I listen to a lot of music, specifically studying genres I know little to nothing about. The other day I blasted Thomas Tallis through the house. He was the court composer during Tudor England. And sometimes after I do yoga, I drink Muscle Milk. But mostly I love on my cats, Tammy Wynette and Possum.