The 19th Annual ASU Writers Conference in Honor
of Elmer Kelton
Featured writer: Dan Chaon
“I love that moment,” says Dan Chaon in a Chicago Sun-Times interview, “when we suddenly wake up for a moment from the lullaby of normalcy and the world seems rich and mysterious again.”
Drawn to characters “in extreme psychological states,” Chaon has been delighting critics since 1995, when his deftly-written first collection of short stories, Fitting Ends, captured the imagination of readers with poignant stories of 20-somethings transitioning to the disillusioning realities of adulthood. Born in Nebraska, educated in Chicago, and a long-time resident of Cleveland, Chaon finds something “interestingly spooky” about the landscapes and cityscapes of the American Midwest.
He began writing early and credits, as a major influence on his career, a letter he received from Ray Bradbury in response to a middle school assignment to “write a letter to your favorite writer.” An on-going correspondence with Bradbury through Chaon’s high school years encouraged Chaon to commit himself to writing. He majored in creative writing at Northwestern, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in 1986, and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in 1990. Following his first book publication, Chaon taught undergraduate and graduate creative writing at Cleveland State University, Ohio State, and Oberlin College, where he is now Delaney Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Co-director of the Creative Writing Program.
Chaon’s second book, Among the Missing, was a finalist for the National Book Award. His first novel, You Remind Me of Me (2004) was named one of the best books of the year by many publications, including Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. He received the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2006. His most recent books are the thriller Await Your Reply (2010) and a new collection of stories, Stay Awake, named one of the best books of 2012 by the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Chaon says, “I’m fascinated by the idea that in some ways, even the people we’re closest to are not completely knowable, that we can never see things precisely from their point of view. Even if you’ve been married 30 years, for example, your spouse certainly has the capacity to surprise you.”
The ideas and inspiration for his stories come from newspaper headlines and conversations overheard in the supermarket check-out line. Whether writing of a boy with night terrors, a baffled widower, or an unfulfilled dreamer, he treats his anxiety-ridden subjects with understanding and compassion.
“I’m attracted to the small, mysterious, slice-of-life moment that isn’t necessarily fodder for a novel but still feels compelling.”
According to critics:
With this arresting collection, Chaon again demonstrates his mastery of the short story…Chaon brings readers fantastically close, slowly drawing them into the anxiety or loneliness or remorse of his characters, and building great anticipation for the twists to come.Publishers Weekly on Stay Awake
Unforgettable … hums with life and wry humor … The stories sneak resolutely up on you, like new weather that hits before you know it.The New York Times Book Review on Among the Missing
One of those writers who possess an uncanny and seemingly otherwordly understanding of the human condition … Chaon [is] a remarkable chronicler of a very American kind of sadness, much in the tradition of Richard Yates, Raymond Carver, and Denis Johnson.San Francisco Chronicle
Extraordinary … renews my faith in the unique capacity of literature to help us understand and ultimately respect ourselves and the strange, baffling, complex figures we all can be.Houston Chronicle on You Remind Me of Me
Stunning … Chaon succeeds in both creating suspense and making it pay off, but Await Your Reply also does something even better. Like the finest of his storytelling heroes, Mr. Chaon manages to bridge the gap between literary and pulp fiction with a clever, insinuating book equally satisfying to fans of either genre.The New York Times