Two ASU students showcased their writing talent at a local authors' event designed to bring fiction to Downtown Phoenix.
Leah Roper and Urian Garcia, both seniors at ASU majoring in creative writing, were among five local fiction authors who read short stories — fewer than 2,000 words — out loud for an audience last Tuesday night at the latest Spillers event at Valley Bar.
Hoekman Jr. and Dunn, both authors themselves, started Spillers as a way to showcase some of the local fiction authors in Phoenix.
“I was not aware of the level of talent and the number of great writers that were out there when we started Spillers,” Dunn said. “It was an incredible surprise for me personally, so to be able to show people that yes, there is a thriving fiction community here in Phoenix and to promote it ... is incredibly rewarding.”
Spillers events are held quarterly. During the event all of the authors' readings are recorded, and Hoekman Jr. and Dunn interview each author after the show. These recordings and interviews are released as individual podcast episodes every week between Spillers events. The Spillers After Show podcast won an award for best podcast from the Phoenix New Times last year.
Spillers authors can participate in several ways. Some are sought out directly by Hoekman Jr. and Dunn, and some are referred by past Spillers, like Leah Roper was. There is also a story submission tool on the Spillers website where anyone can submit a story for consideration, as Urian Garcia did.
According to Dunn, some of the stories submitted via the website aren’t a great fit for Spillers, but both Dunn and Hoekman Jr. agreed on Garcia’s story immediately. Dunn said it “restored his faith in the open submission process.”
“Robert and I both read the stories. The story has to carry the day, it has to resonate with us and have something unique about it and something special,” Dunn said.
Garcia, an Arizona native, will graduate in May. He said he has always wanted to be a writer, but didn’t fully embrace it until he got to college, switching his major from English literature to creative writing during his sophomore year.
The story he read at Spillers "Hard Rime" dealt with themes of immigration and deportation.
“What really inspired it was probably all the politics that were happening the past year, there was a lot of conversations that were happening about immigration," he said. "The conversations were really one-dimensional — I really wanted to write a story that could produce a different conversation."
Hoekman Jr., who also read one of his own stories at Tuesday’s event, said that platforms like Spillers are important because “there’s no real way to find your favorite author, let alone a local author.”
“I’m interested in helping to uncover the raw and acclaimed local talent and putting it into a show-like platform where an audience actually gets to see authors treated like rock stars for a night. That never happens,” he said.
“Arts need to be treated the same way that sports is treated and entertainment and music is treated. It needs to be elevated and given the proper respect, the proper venue, and the proper platform," said Dunn. "I’d like to think we are doing a little of that to present it the way it should be."
Roper and Garcia were the first ASU undergrads ever to participate in Spillers, but many past Spillers have been professors or MFA Creative Writing students, including Dana Diehl, who also participated in Tuesday’s event. Dunn describes the Spillers relationship with the ASU MFA Creative Writing program as “a mutual admiration society.”
A past Spiller recommended Roper, who is also graduating in May. Her story "Count Backwards from Five" is about a woman who constantly imagines the death of her partner. Roper says ultimately, it’s about the fear of loss.
“It’s one of those things that I think everybody does a little bit, this idea of ‘What would happen if?’ but I just liked to expound that and make it “What would happen if?’ and you think that all the time," Roper said.
Roper also took some time to decide on her career path, changing her major 16 times before settling on creative writing. She plans to apply to graduate school after graduation and hopes to have more of her work published in the future. She has had both fiction pieces and poems published previously, and also started her own literary journal Blue Stoat.
Tuesday’s Spillers event was Garcia’s first time reading his work publicly. He urges other aspiring writers not to be discouraged by rejections, describing a list he keeps of two to three dozen publications that have rejected his work in the past.
“You should still continue writing because all your stories, they have a place. Someone will take it, it just takes some time to find a home for your story,” Garcia said.