The UC Irvine Bookstore’s Author Series event was packed this past Wednesday as attendees gathered to hear UCI lecturers and published authors Ryan Ridge and Collier Nogues read from their two recently published works: “Hunters & Gamblers” and “On the Other Side, Blue,” respectively.
With two distinct writing styles and influences, the authors dazzled the audience with their verses and prose.
In both cases, however, there was a certain degree of dark humor in a few of their pieces that brought the audience to laughs in between the otherwise foreboding tone that accompanied their works.
The night began with the introduction of the author series on behalf of the UCI Bookstore, followed by an introduction of Collier Nogues and her first published collection of poems, entitled “On the Other Side, Blue.”
Before beginning her reading, she took a moment to recognize how full the room was and that she had never read to so many people at once before.
“It’s like reading at home among familiar faces,” she mused, beaming about the somewhat cramped space inside the Bookstore.
Nogues noted that this particular collection of poems stemmed from the loss of her mother and the similar losses of close friends.
She added simply, “Grieving makes one pay attention.”
Nogues opened with a poem titled “Blurred Farm,” which painted a pastoral scene for the audience. This contrasted with her next selection, titled “Kitchen Corridor” which included an allusion to the Greek Furies. The juxtaposition of realism and the Furies was intriguing and spoke to her poetic abilities.
Another memorable piece, “Long Weekend,” described and highlighted mundane, household things. It’s a piece that truly finds the beautiful in the ordinary, which was a theme among some of Nogues’ works.
A latter poem, entitled “Long Weekend II,” is written with a more somber tone. Nogues describes her mother’s grave marker as a “plastic marker” because of the recency of her passing.
As if to bring the mood back up, her next selection, “Chicken-Sitting,” is a self-described love story.
Lines like “everything is a big deal to chickens” and “I like being up at that hour but I didn’t like why” make Nogues’ piece unique and memorable, and they created a pleasant experience for all those in attendance despite some of the more somber overtones of her work.
Ryan Ridge was the second and final author to be showcased last Wednesday. Hailing from Kentucky, his introducer made a point that even though Ridge is considered a Southern writer, he is no way shoved into that category.
As Ridge himself describes his work, “It’s about hands and sleight of hands.”
With works like “Wall Street,” Ridge’s powerful instances of flash-fiction highlights his masterful use of economical prose, a defining feature of his writing style through “Hunters & Gamblers.”
Ridge’s way with words is refreshingly original as well — sentences like “News kept breaking and no one could fix it” in
“Something Nice, Something Gleaming” demonstrates perfectly Ridge’s unique approach to prose and memorable style of writing that makes reading his works an experience in itself.
I had the chance to sit down and ask both authors a couple questions after they took the time to talk with and sign books for attendees of the event.
Nogues was asked about her inspirations for writing.
“It kicks in when I’m traveling by myself,” Nogues said. “Usually it’s some sort of image, something surprising that inspires me. Plus, it’s fun,” she said with a smile.
“Writing felt necessary,” Nogues continued. “It helped make sense of things. I started writing the poems four years ago at UCI [as an MFA student], but none of those made it into this book.”
“I’ve enjoyed my experience at UCI, teaching poetry was great,” Nogues said when asked about her experiences here. She is still currently teaching at UCI.
Ryan Ridge, on the other hand, has had a different experience in his path to becoming a writer.
“I took my first fiction workshop at 25 years old,” Ridge said. “I worked a bunch of bad jobs up until then. I worked a butcher shop, places like that.”
“I started the novella that made it into ‘Hunters & Gamblers’ in 2005. The book is sort of like the best of the past six years,” he added with a bit of chuckle.
“The book went from 300 pages, to 200, to 125.”
When asked if that meant if his stories were more or less the best of the best of the best, Ridge laughed a bit to himself.
“You could say that,” he replied.
Like Nogues, he was asked about his inspirations for his dark humor and cynical style of writing.
“I like funny writers,” Ridge said. “I like Vonnegut, authors like that. The shorter stories just sort of come. They feel more comfortable. Writing long is more of a challenge for me. If I could write all my stories in one sentence, I would.”
Ridge currently teaches at UCI along with Nogues.
The next author series event takes place at the UCI Bookstore on Wednesday, Nov. 2 from 5:30-7:00 p.m. and will feature authors David Hernandez and Ismet Prcic.