A huge water heater lives in the middle of writer Molly Anders’s tiny kitchen. “This is Louis,” she says, gesturing as she makes coffee. She says all the other Fine Arts Work Center fellows living in the apartments on Brewster Street have water heaters like hers. But they’re not all as friendly with them.
It’s somehow fitting that Anders has found a character in her water heater. But in her short stories, people dominate the pages more than their inanimate surroundings do.
Anders looks forward to reading from her work at the Stanley Kunitz Room on Saturday, April 2 alongside poet Samyak Shertok. “I love reading,” she says. She says her work lends itself to performance: “It’s all very voice-driven.”
She grew up in Frankfort, Ky., where, she says, her parents were both addicts and her father a cop and would-be novelist. The first member of her family to go to college, Anders went to Bard and briefly studied theater before switching to Middle East studies and creative writing. After graduating in 2009, she received a Fulbright grant to study media and propaganda in Jordan, then went on to pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing at Syracuse University. She has worked as a researcher and journalist and is taking a break from the Development Engagement Lab at University College London, where she researches public attitudes towards global poverty.
“My family was poor, but getting a library card was cheap,” she says of growing up reading and writing.
After her father died last year, she says, “I tried to write this love poem, but it ended up being about dead parents and grief.”
Her father also appears in her story “A Straightforward Matter.” In it, a cop named George runs out for beer in his cruiser, drunk and wearing nothing but boots and his gun around his waist. George is based on Anders’s father, who, she says, actually did that. “His colleagues thought it was hilarious,” she recalls.
In the story, George helps the narrator get out of criminal charges, calling a hit-and-run incident “a straightforward matter.”
Much of Anders’s work involves narrators confessing their ugliest deeds. “I think the confessional nature of a lot of the stories comes from me having to sit through so many AA meetings as a kid,” she says. She remembers coloring and crawling under tables, hearing “really personal, and often really funny accounts of someone’s downfall.”
One of Anders’s inspirations is writer Denis Johnson, who was a FAWC fellow in 1981 and 1982. She carries a copy of Johnson’s short story collection Jesus’ Son with her. “I had to get a bunch of them because I kept giving them away,” she says.
Johnson, who died in 2017, wrote about addiction and was an addict himself. Reading his raw, comedic, near stream-of-consciousness style “changed the way I write,” she says.
The ebb and flow of Provincetown’s tourists has fascinated Anders through the fall and winter. “I find off-season places where there’s a big wealth disparity interesting,” she says. But, she adds, she has not been writing about Provincetown much during her fellowship.
“It’s all been very internal, with a lot of characters who are overthinking things,” she says. “That has something to do with the isolation and the quiet.”
Anders hopes those characters will come together into a short story collection. She says everything she’s written is vying for her attention, forcing her to ask whether each piece is good enough to go in. Anders admits she’s a tough editor, which makes it difficult to include new writing in her collection.
But that’s not a bad thing, she says. “The gift,” says Anders, “is caring so much about it. And putting in the time.”
The event: A reading by Fine Arts Work Center writing fellows Molly Anders and Samyak Shertok
The time: Saturday, April 2 at 7 p.m.
The place: Stanley Kunitz Room, Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown; or online at fawc.org
The cost: Free