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Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Critical Mass 11: What a Sense of Community!

The literary arts reign supreme at Critical Mass 11, an annual Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) project. As the literary arts critic, I received submissions from writers that ran the whole gamut of literary styles, from novel excerpts and historical and science fiction to contemporary, experimental and love poems.

When I arrived in Shreveport, I’d made my selections, but I was delighted to meet with the artists. In my experience, it takes much more than what is on the page to be successful. I had the opportunity to meet with several writers to discuss their work; I listened to them read between performances at Caddo Park; and I paid attention to how they supported Critical Mass.

The artists whose work stands out on the page usually do the most work on and off the page, and I found that to be true in my selection this time as well.

But what was most important for this competition was what was on the page. The stories and poems were interesting, engaging and wellwritten. NWLA has a wealth of talented literary artists, which certainly didn’t make my job easy. Dorie LaRue’s authentic voice still rings in my mind from her novel excerpt, “A Good Man Even in the Dark”: “Go back, go back, Leonard, please? They could be in danger on this dark road.”

In addition to the novel excerpts, D.L. Holmes’ collection of poems, “Influenced/Unfollowed,” deserves an honorable mention for his take on social media and powerful use of second person.

The winner, Mary Dumars’ science fiction novel excerpt, “A Bad Day for Benny,” is about a captain finding and placing a chip inside people who had hidden from him for years, including a young empath. The authenticity of the story, even in its dystopic universe, held my attention. It takes place in a school where the young protagonist is a student. From the beginning, I knew this would be a book I would want to read. Certain passages resonate days or even weeks after reading: “Though he willed himself to not cry today, Benny was distraught most of the day …Headmistress Ano smiled. She knew a terrible fate awaited her and her staff, trauma for her students. She took comfort in knowing most of them would be returned to their families after being chipped and evaluated.”

Working within the genre of science fiction, which is not always my first choice as a reader, Dumars is operating in the lineage of writers like Octavia Butler. It’s a style of writing that has the ability to comment on the moment we’re living in by creating an entirely new but wholly recognizable universe.

Sanderia Faye is the author of “Mourner’s Bench.” She teaches creative writing at Southern Methodist University. She is the director of Dallas Literary Festival and Dallas Lit Night.


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