ABR speaker treasures South Texas

For all the writers the American Book Review series has brought in for its reading series, Bret Anthony Johnston was the only one who never asked "Victoria? Where is that?"

That's because the award-winning author and director of creative writing at Harvard is a Corpus Christi native. In fact, his book "Corpus Christi: Stories" was named Best Book of the Year, and was winning a host of other awards. As a South Texas native, he said the area is something that eternally intrigues him and often pops up in his work.

"This area is so unique and I'm fascinated by it. Not a lot has been written on it so to me it's wide open," Johnston said on Thursday to a packed crowd at the University of Houston-Victoria. "The region is such a complex character and I'll keep writing about it until it doesn't resonate anymore. In fact, the set of stories and the novel I'm working on now are both set in South Texas."

When asked to elaborate on why he finds the area so interesting, Johnston related an anecdote that happened just the other night while he dined with Charles Alcorn, the managing editor for the American Book Review.

"A perfect example. Last night at dinner, I told Charlie that I had a friend coming into town tomorrow and I asked him if he could come with us to lunch. My friend is a vegetarian so I asked if we could go to a place that would have vegetarian food," Johnston said. "And Charlie said 'Yeah, we can go here. He can get turkey.' That is what I find fascinating."

Johnston also discussed his background as a writer. Although he always loved to read and write, it wasn't until a teacher of his in Corpus Christi encouraged him to go to his first book reading that he realized he wanted to be a writer.

"He put a ticket in my hand for a Robert Stone reading. I went into that reading knowing I loved reading and writing. I came out an hour later knowing I was going to be a writer," he said. "And I've been a writer ever since."

Johnston also read three short stories to the audience, including "Caiman," "Boy" and "On Rejection; or Dear Author, After Careful Consideration."

With several students also in the audience, Johnston also shared advice for aspiring writers.

"I like that advice about writing what you know, but I'm more interested in the advice of write what you are afraid of," he said. "That is the story you should be writing."