Belle Boggs’ “Mattaponi Queen,” assorted short stories containing a collective of eccentric characters, each with a need for the Mattaponi River, is causing the UC Irvine ’03 writing and fiction MFA to gain serious notoriety. Amidst her 2009 Bakeless Prize and recent publishing in the Paris Review, Boggs returned to UCI for a reading from the twelve interrelated tales.
“I’ll just start at the beginning,” she said modestly at the bookstore’s “Author Series” event this past Friday.
The passage she read described the importance of the Mattaponi river — a body of water Boggs described as being “sucked of its life.”
What makes the Mattaponi, a river that runs through four counties of Virginia — Boggs’ homestate — so controversial is the recent debate surrounding the proposition of the King William Reservoir on the river. The Mattaponi Indian reservation, where a large portion of the book takes place, runs along the water as well. It is in this setting that Skinny, a character whom she had created while studying at UCI, unfolded to the attendees of the reading.
Boggs grew up in King William, Virginia, then moved east to King and Queen County. This setting creates an especially key backdrop for the cast of personalities assembled. It is difficult to determine whether or not it is the place in which the story takes place or the motley crew that gives “Mattaponi Queen” such a smooth delivery.
Skinny, Loretta and George are other prevalent lives in the novel that Boggs says she feels especially close to.
“I think as writers we feel an affinity to the characters and our personality inherently bleeds in a bit,” Boggs said.
The environment still played a key role, she continued.
“I wanted to be true to the place. I tried to be consistent with landmarks and aspects of the area. But the people are different … some are based on people I’ve met, others are just ones I have made up on my own. Still, no matter what, the characters work with the Mattaponi Reservation, blending into the rest of the county in a different way.”
Still, Boggs feels a certain sense of both attachment and detachment from Virginia. Although the entirety of “Mattaponi Queen” takes place in counties she grew up in and the current piece she is working on is a story that also takes place in Virginia, she insists she will never move back there.
Despite all this, the feeling of home still bleeds into her work — most noticeably by the cover of the novel itself.
“The town of Walkerton, where my parents live now,” Boggs said, “is about 200 years old, and the dog is always digging things up.”
What came to fruition was a spray of flora exclusive to the area and trinkets from the ground of the front yard placed as the artwork to her first novel.
Boggs is not the first to have visited UCI for the Author Series, as other noted writers such as Aimee Bender have stood at the Bookstore podium to read selections of their work this year.