Assistant professor cultivates unique writing style

Feb 6th, 2018

Ryan Guth

For Ryan Guth, assistant professor of English at Jackson State Community College, writing strengthens his grasp of complex events and emotions. A companion to vision or touch, it's an essential part of his life.

"Writing is like another one of my senses," he said. "It's one of the ways I try to make sense of the world."

He is a mixed-genre author who blends a narrative framework of verse and prose - and hybrids of his own invention - to tell stories from the past based on fact, fiction and his own memory. Guth explores the boundaries of creative nonfiction, fictionalizing accounts as needed to capture the nuances of his subjects' emotions and the atmospheres of his stories' settings.

He has published two books, Home Truths and Body and Soul, and he is working on a third, Livings. Home Truths was originally published in 2006, but a revised and expanded edition is due out this May from Transcendent Zero Press.

The book is a speculative reconstruction of events that occurred in his family before he was born that impacted his life. As he wrote it, he said he sought an alternative to the focused narrative of a novel or the inevitable discreteness of the miscellaneous volume of poetry.

"While working on the individual pieces in this volume, I became fascinated by the possibilities of the sequence or collection itself as a literary medium," he said. "It seemed to me that a series of independent but linked 'snapshots' of lyric and narrative moments, employing different perspectives, techniques and even genres, could perhaps get closer to the texture of lived experience."

Guth published Body and Soul in 2015. It tells the story of a woman who survived sexual abuse as a child, offering a chronological account of a divorcee's physical and psychological recovery after a descent into alcoholism and destructive sexual relationships.

"The book shows her struggle with these terrible experiences," Guth said. "But it also shows her winning that struggle. In the end, she is able to reclaim her life."

Body and Soul was a featured title at the 2015 Southern Festival of Books and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

His latest work, Livings, explores the strange personalities of the four famous Brontë siblings between 1845 and 1850. After failed careers, they all returned home to become writers and poets and live with their equally unusual father, an elderly Anglican pastor.

"They are fascinating people in their own right," Guth said. "All of them were highly gifted, highly strung and kind of odd. I'm focusing on the atmosphere in the house and what it was like at that time in their lives."

Livings is a work in progress, though he has shared excerpts at literary events and in journals.

The mixed-genre nature of his books has allowed for portions to be extracted and enjoyed in other formats. Individual selections have appeared in publications such as Lummox, Iron Horse, Bryant Literary Review, Third Coast Review, River City and Our Jackson Home. He has been invited to several readings, presentations and panel discussions, as well as local radio and television programs, where he has been able to promote his work and cultivate an audience.

"Any writer wants to be read, to be heard," he said.

Though writing is a central part of his life, Guth cautions anyone seeking a career as an author - especially an author who writes nontraditional books spanning a variety of genres.

"Write because you like to write," he said. "Make sure that you love writing for its own sake because there's little chance of making a living solely from one's work."

Guth's upcoming appearances include the Louisville Conference on Language and Literature in Kentucky from Feb. 22 to Feb. 24, where he will read excerpts from Livings. He has also been invited to give a reading from noon to 1 p.m. on April 5 for Jackson-Madison County Friends of the Library. He plans to read pieces from all three of his works.



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