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Festival of Reading: What's Kent Wascom reading?

Kent Wascom

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When Wascom, 29, made his first visit to the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading two years ago, he had just released his first novel, Blood of Heaven, which was short-listed for the David J. Langum Sr. Prize for American Historical Fiction and listed as Notable Fiction for 2013 by the Washington Post. He'll be back for the 2015 festival, discussing Blood of Heaven's sequel, Secessia, which explores the Union's occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War under the controversial commander Major Gen. Benjamin "the Beast'' Butler. Wascom, who is on the faculty at Southeastern Louisiana University's English department in Hammond, made sure to include his wild character Angel Woolsack, now a scary, one-eyed, one-armed old man.

Wascom will speak at 10:15 a.m. Oct. 24 in USF Science & Technology 123.

What's on your nightstand?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It's nominated for the National Book Award. So far I don't think I can give it any more praise. She has done an amazing job, especially with things like writing about how men deal with emotions. She's observed it so keenly. Before reading it, if A Little Life came up in conversation, my friends would talk about it just in the extent of how long it made them cry. Now after starting it, I see that it is pretty rare, that emotional rawness. It is 700 pages, and the very length makes you intimate with the characters in a way that a shorter novel can't. I'm also reading The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje. It's totally different, much shorter. I call it my poetic reading.

Speaking of long versus short, is length a factor when you pick out your reads?

I'm about images and poetic language, rich baroque language. I like heavily rhythmic sentences. There's a beauty in expansive reading. A writer who has the capability of being expansive, rendering a life or multiple lives meaningful, it takes time to do.

When did Benjamin Butler enter your consciousness?

I was in a used bookstore, I think it was in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I was picking through some very old novels, and out of one came an article from 1890. It was not contemporary. I learned about his fabled lust for stealing everyone's stuff. It all sat for a long time, until after Blood of Heaven. He came out as I wanted to do a civil war story without battles and combat but instead about occupation, what it means to occupy and change things and what it means to be conflicted.

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

Festival of Reading: What's Kent Wascom reading? 10/14/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 1:14pm]
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