At age 5, Alissa Nutting watched an alien abduction story on TV’s Hard Copy, an experience so distressing she stopped sleeping at night, passed in and out of consciousness at school. Consumed by the notion that awful things were happening around her “all the time,” she turned in pursuit of the scary, particularly Stephen King books. By high school she was telling outlandish lies, presented as truth and designed to evoke laughter. Her reading list grew to include Kafka, Dostoyevsky and Baudelaire.
You might have guessed some of that if you’ve read any of the darkly hilarious and tender works by Nutting, a Schaeffer Fellow in fiction at UNLV. This month, as part of the Black Mountain Institute Lecture Series, Nutting read two short stories, “Knife Thrower” and “Corpse Smoker,” from her collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, along with a segment of an in-progress novel. The session was followed by a question-and-answer session in which she generously and charmingly spilled bits about her inspiration, childhood (see above) and the task of writing. One of the more interesting tidbits? Advice given to her by a teacher: “Write to entertain yourself,” to which she adhered. “I do like to make myself laugh,” she says.
Nutting would probably do it without the laughter. “There were horrible things coming out of my mind. Vulgar atrocities. I had no choice but to write them.” Thankfully, she did. Nutting treats the ugliness and beauty of life with depth, humor and warmth.