ASU hosts author Amelia Gray in Tempe

The ASU alumna hosted a master class and held an open reading for students and faculty

ASU hosted author Amelia Gray at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing as part of a larger effort to build the literary community in Tempe and Phoenix on Oct. 13. 

Gray spoke to a group of ASU students and faculty outside the Piper Center, reading from her new novel, "Isadora," a biographical novel about Isadora Duncan, the mother of modern dance. She also read selected excerpts from her previous collections including "AM/PM" and "Gutshot."

She is the first in a lineup of authors scheduled to visit the center, including novelist Eric Gansworth and poet Maggie Smith. 

These author visits are a part of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series, organized by the Piper Center.

“One of the reasons I wanted her to be the first is that she’s an alum of ASU,” said Matt Bell, former interim director of the center. “She was an undergrad writer in 2004, and it’s very exciting to have one of our own start off this new thing here.”

Bell said his intention behind inviting authors to the Piper Center is to give students direct access to writers.  

“One of the things we really wanted to do was bring writers to town for readings in an intimate social environment where you’d have more of a chance to interact with the writer,” he said. 

Kennedy Hall, a junior English major, said she attended the function after reading Amelia’s work in one of her classes. 

“It’s so nice to hear someone speak who’s so eloquent, successful and who has been published," Hall said.

As a community college student, she said she did not have access to author readings before transferring to ASU. 

Besides her status as an alumna, Gray stands apart from other authors with her unique career trajectory. 

“I think the story of how I came to find my career is kind of a modern one, one that I wasn’t taught or informed of,” she said at a master class she taught at Hayden Library.

After graduating from ASU, Gray was determined to make her mark with flash fiction

Flash fiction are extremely short stories, usually under a few hundred words, according to Writer's Digest.

“I had this obsession with the idea that I was going be a short story writer. I was going to buck the trend," Gray said. "I was going to do the thing that people don’t make a living off of anymore.”

As a short-story writer who was not teaching, she said she was often broke. She found other ways to make money, from doing pharmaceutical testing, which she described as “dangerous but lucrative," to working in a fish market and briefly acting as a celebrity reporter. 

"I came to LA, and the first thing I did was give plasma so I could make a little extra money," she said.

Gray is no stranger to an uphill battle. She said she applied to 10 graduate programs and was accepted into one. By the time she graduated with her master’s, she had received over 350 rejection letters. 

"It's part of throwing yourself out there," Gray said, "I should have a whole separate lecture of the moments of failure and loss, and then an additional supplementary lecture about what I recognize the ways in which I got lucky..." 

Her first novel, "AM/PM," was sold for $500 and marketed through a fake PR person’s email, Gray said.  But, it was enough to land her an editor and eventually publish her story, “Labyrinth” in the New Yorker.

"No matter what she's writing, I find Amelia's sentences striking, her insights well-earned and her stories compellingly both weird and humane, perhaps humane especially because she never fails to note how weird humans are," Matt Bell said.

Things are only looking up for Gray, who is currently working on a Netflix series called "Maniac," all about, interestingly enough, pharmaceutical testing. 

This article incorrectly stated Matt Bell's title as director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. He is the former interim director. Also, the article implied that Bell organized the event himself, rather than the Piper Center. The article has been updated to reflect both these changes.

Reach the reporter at and follow @rspiess98 on Twitter. 

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