From staff reports
Published: Sunday, January 17, 2010
(Six others from Wofford part of book)
C. Michael Curtis has edited and discovered some of the greatest fiction writers of the past century -- John Updike, Tobias Wolfe and Joyce Carol Oates, among hundreds of others.
But after moving to Spartanburg to take a chair at Wofford College with his wife, novelist Elizabeth Cox, Curtis began editing stories by some of the Hub City's finest as well.
The venerable literary editor's exploration of his new city has led to the publication of "Expecting Goodness and Other Stories: The Essential Fiction of Spartanburg," a collection of short stories by established and up-and-coming authors who remarkably share the same hometown.
The Hub City Writers Project will release the book at a group reading and signing at 7 p.m. Monday (Jan. 18) at The Showroom, 149 S. Daniel Morgan Ave. The event is free, and books will be for sale.
"I've dreamed of having Mike Curtis edit one of my stories since I was a teenager," said Jeremy Jones, whose story "Where is William Now" appears in the new book. "A lot of us in this collection have been sending him stories at The Atlantic for a lot of years."
Curtis has served as fiction editor of The Atlantic magazine for 36 years and now edits the annual fiction issue from his home in Spartanburg. Since moving here in 2006, he has taught classes in his home and at local churches, mentored local writers, and connected others with New York agents. He also has worked with the Hub City Writers Project in the past year to select the 20 stories that appear in "Expecting Goodness."
"The writers, many of them, sent me very publishable work, and were patient with what must have seemed ruthless editing and shaping," Curtis said. "I think they have reason to be proud of the assemblage that made its way into print. I certainly am."
The title story by Michel S. Stone transpires in an airport, as a hesitant young husband begins his journey toward an adopted child. In Rosa Shand's heartbreaking "Sweetness," a Charleston girl discovers her mother's lesbian love affair. Two teenage boys looking for a good time encounter a deadbeat, aging Jack Kerouac in Deno Trakas's "Pretty Pitiful God."
There's levity, too: In Lou Dischler's offbeat "Lola's Prayer," a file clerk thinks she has lost a pregnant chinchilla up the tailpipe of her Toyota.
Among the other authors are Thomas McConnell, author of the story collection "A Picture Book of Hell"; National Public Radio producer Thomas Pierce; Susan Tekulve, whose collection "My Mother's War Stories" received the Winnow Press fiction prize; and Elizabeth Cox, author of "A Slow Moon."
"Mike has probably rejected more big-name writers than anyone, so it was a thrill to have him pick one of my stories for this anthology," said Dischler, a former senior scientist with Milliken & Co. whose story leads off the collection.
Stone, who wrote the title story for "Expecting Goodness," said she is "grateful for Mike's editing and keen insight" that shaped the final version of her story.
"Mike has been an incredibly generous mentor to me in terms of my writing since I met him several years ago," she said.
Jones, who teaches English at Wofford College, said there was "something more than a little surreal sitting across from him while he held your story in one hand and a pencil in the other."
Curtis said he has always done a little "pro bono" work as an editor at The Atlantic and it seemed the right thing to do once he came to Spartanburg, too.
"Those habits are hard to break, and Hub City's various projects have always seemed to me intellectually sound, reasonably ambitious and of obvious benefit to the larger community."
Did he expect to find a budding literary community in Spartanburg when he moved south from Boston?
"Bear in mind that I've lived in New York, Ithaca and Boston for the past 60 years, and could barely imagine what life in Spartanburg might be like," he said. "Insofar as I thought about Spartanburg's cultural life, I think I expected pockets of intellectual enthusiasm and a larger community of the unread and possibly unreflective."
Teaching at Wofford, though, brought him into daily contact "with a faculty as engaged, thoughtful and accessible -- if not necessarily as world-renowned -- as faculties at Cornell and Harvard, the two I know best."
Jones said he is constantly amazed to find himself sitting beside one of the greatest fiction editors of the 20th century.
"He's just an ordinary guy when you see him in the faculty dining room or chat with him over coffee. But when he puts a story on the table, opens it up, and guides it toward being the best it can be ... he's something else altogether."
"Expecting Goodness" sells for $16.95 at Barnes & Noble or the Hub City Writers Project offices.