Cheyenne Dorsagno, Staff Writer
On Thursday, April 16, the Morris Hall Conference Center continued their Red Dragon Reading Series with April L. Ford.
Ford is managing editor of Digital Americana Magazine, a teacher of Creative Writing here at SUNY Oneonta, and author of the story collection The Poor Children. Her debut compilation won Grand Prize for the Sante Fe Writers Project 2013 Literary Awards Program for Fiction and her forthcoming novel Gentle has been considered for multiple prizes. Kirkus Reviews has described The Poor Children as “Frighteningly unsentimental stories about childhood and youth.” One short story, “A Marmalade Cat for Jenny,” narrates incestuous rape, murder and kitten torture.
Another, “runawaybitch13,” portrays a massacre that resulted from a young goth girl’s relationship with an older man who believes he is a werewolf. While Ford’s writing has been described as extreme and detached, Ford explained that she does not use “gratuitous violence … It serves the purpose of the story.”
She often asks herself how much of these disturbing scenes are necessary to make her point but firmly avoids censorship.
Ford draws inspiration from her experiences of volunteering with troubled youth. While she hated being their age, Ford later found that she got along with that age group better than her own. She was interestingly “attracted and repelled.” She explained that getting older makes life harder to handle because of an adult’s consciousness of the moral implications of their decisions; while young, there is a creativity to make a situation work and a selfishness that is not necessarily bad. Ford’s characters are capable of a more complex power, comprehension, playfulness, intelligence and carelessness than is expected of adolescence. Her creative exposé is a looking glass for today’s ignored and underestimated children.
Ford read aloud one of the short stories in The Poor Children. “Bleary” was most likely chosen because it is one of her more tame works. The story is set in Quebec and narrated by a teenage boy named Trigger who is sent to a new juvenile correctional facility named Bleary. The story opens with him explaining that while the word bleary is defined as vague or unfocused, it sounds like a combination of the words “bleak” and “weary.” This clarification is an apt description of his perspective of his worth and future. Trigger is an upper-class pyromaniac that typically sets trash on fire as inspired by sophisticated homeless men that read the newspaper before using it for heat. During his stay at Bleary, he develops a relationship with a “proud and wounded” correctional officer named Avril. As expected, he befriends not only an encourager but some characters more reckless and hopeless than he could have imagined growing up in a good town with a passive aggressive mother.
For what is presumed to be the first time, Trigger uses unusual drugs, witnesses extreme parental neglect and becomes a bystander to violence. Ford disclosed after her reading that the altercation at the climax of the story–which reaches no resolution–was inspired by an assault she watched her husband undergo during a midnight stroll in a graveyard. The offender and two of his friends were later identified. Ford found herself most interested in the privileged kid of the group who had not been directly involved in the crime. The story works to unfold an undying, controversial question–how exactly do kids get themselves involved in these things?