Monday Text: Mark Richard’s “The Birds for Christmas”

Mark Richard’s “The Birds for Christmas” is this week’s Monday Text. Richard is the author of two story collections, The Ice at the Bottom of the World and Charity, a novel, Fishboy, and a memoir, House of Prayer #2.

“The Birds for Christmas” appears in Charity and is set at a state charity hospital; the story is loosely based on Richard’s adolescent experiences in Richmond’s Crippled Children’s Hospital, which he covers in House of Prayer #2 (the connections are obvious to anyone who has read both books and followed Richard’s career closely).

I love this story because it was the story that gave me permission to be weird and funny when writing about traumatic experience. Like many young creative writers who come up through the workshop system, I’d convinced myself that the ideal “serious” story was a kind of place-less and straight laced realism (not all realism is the same, by the way) where characters talked like Weather Channel anchors. But here was a writer like me, who wanted to write realism about social outcasts and misfits! Here was a writer who’d spent time in a state hospital who understood the intimate connections between tragedy and comedy and how both inform the grotesque. Here was a writer not ashamed to write dialect, who’d spent much of his life in the same area of the South (VA and NC).

Read “The Birds for Christmas,” then listen to this wonderful interview Richard conducted with Bookworm’s Michael Silverblatt in the late 90s upon Charity’s release. Also, check out an older blog post of mine on House of Prayer #2, and another one that discusses Richard’s interest in sound and how pleasurably discordant language can convey horror and tragedy.

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