Behrend alumna Heather Slomski reaches milestone with release of first book

For years, author Heather A. Slomski, a 2003 Penn State graduate and her husband, Vincent Reusch, an author and associate professor of creative writing at Concordia College, have read each other’s work.

They each offer the other honest critiques and suggestions.

But now, the two get to share their work with another family member: 19-month-old son Oscar.

It’s fitting that Slomski, a Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, alumna, would begin reading to her son at such a young age. As a child, the Erie native knew she wanted to pursue a career involving the written word, so it seems appropriate that she would start her son down a similar path.

“I really knew I always wanted to write,” said Slomski, who earned her bachelor of arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Penn State Behrend in 2003. “Getting published was a goal that was always driving me.”

Mission accomplished.

Slomski has had short stories published in TriQuarterly, American Letters & Commentary, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, The Normal School, and other publications, but her crowning achievement comes this fall. That’s when her first book, "The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons," will be released from the University of Iowa Press. The book, a collection of 15 short stories, was a labor of love for Slomski.

She worked on it while pursuing her masters of fine arts at Western Michigan University and then afterward when she held the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville.

“Not everything I wrote fit together,” said Slomski, who also is an adjunct professor at Concordia College. “It actually took me a long time to feel as if I had a finished manuscript.”

Yet, when it was finished, Slomski says she had a strong sense of accomplishment. The book has already made waves, receiving the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award, a national award given to a first collection of fiction in English and administered through the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

“It’s really rewarding because I feel good about the individual stories and the collection, but I feel validated for it to be recognized and win this award,” Slomski said.

Slomski says her two favorite stories are the title story and the last story in the collection, “Before the Story Ends.”

“I like the title story a lot because it takes the structure of a play and kind of exists on the border of drama and fiction,” Slomski said. “The last story has some magic to it, and it’s also an exploration of loss, and I felt I achieved something with that story. The two stories almost don’t fit in the same book, but they do. They have totally different tones but both deal with loss in a very different way. The title story actually ends up being about gaining something, which is, of course, the opposite of loss.”

Slomski has already begun work on her next project, "The Starlight Ballroom," a novel that tells the fictional story of the lives and deaths of her paternal grandparents.

About Heather A. Slomski

Fellowships and Awards: From 2008-10, Slomski held the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville, where she taught fiction and organized a two-day literary festival titled “The Story of Form.” She was awarded a 2013 Minnesota State Artist Initiative Grant, which afforded her travel money to spend six weeks in Krakow and take a course release from teaching. While there, she conducted research for her novel-in-progress, The Starlight Ballroom. She also was awarded the 2013 Minnesota Emerging Writers’ Grant, which allowed her to take a course release, so she could continue working on the novel.

Influences: Steven Millhauser, Lydia Davis, Charles Simic, Anne Carson, Angela Carter and Bruno Schulz

Favorite book as a child: “I would say the book I kept turning to was "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" because it has that mix of reality and the fantastic. As a child, and even as an adult, you just don’t question it and say ‘This could never happen,’ or ‘This is not how the world works.’”

Advice for aspiring writers: “Find a writing schedule—a time and a place where you can write, every day, if possible—and stick to it. Also read a lot. Continually seek out new authors to read, and take care not to overlook literature in translation, literary journals or writers who publish with small presses.”

For more information, visit Slomski’s website at heatheraslomski.com.

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Last Updated October 30, 2014