A Re-Introduction to Rion Amilcar Scott's World
Rion Amilcar Scott returns this summer with another stunning collection of fiction with The World Doesn’t Require You.
Scott's world takes center stage in the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland, first introduced in his debut collection,
Insurrections. Both collections use Cross River, the site of the only successful slave revolt in U.S. history, as a backdrop for the immense complexities that arise out of a Southern Black town.
Scott’s first collection won the PEN/Robert A. Bingham Award for Debut Fiction. We had the pleasure of interviewing him about it in 2016 (Check it out here). In The World Doesn’t Require You, once again, his city and its characters are made beautifully alive in the hands of an extraordinary short story writer. It will be released on August 20, 2019.
The Silver Spring, Maryland native took some time off from writing to talk to us for a bit. See our interview below.
---Auburn Avenue Editorial Staff
The World Doesn’t Require You is your second collection of fiction. Can you tell us about the selection and meaning of the title?
The phrase has been one that’s been floating around my head for a long time. I’m hoping that readers create their own relationship between themselves, the title and the text, but I will say that it’s important to remember that each of us is a blade of grass, not the lawn itself.
The cover art for the new book features artwork by Dr. Fahamu Pecou. Were you involved in choosing the cover? How important do you think a book’s cover art is to its life and existence?
I had a number of images to choose from, each presented to me by my publisher. Each image was beautiful, but I wouldn’t say it was a tough decision. If I encountered Dr. Pecou’s painting in a gallery or a museum I’d imagine the character in the picture and his life as a Cross Riverian. Covers often set the stage for us when we open a book, and I am glad my book has an image that complements what’s happening on the pages, rather than one that distorts my work.
The World Doesn't Require You: Stories. (Knopf). Release date: August 20, 2019.
"It’s important to remember that each of us is a blade of grass, not the lawn itself."
What was the writing process like for the new book?
A lot of the stories in this collection, like David Sherman, the Last Son of God and The Temple of Practical Arts were written at the same time as the stories in my first collection, I just didn’t know how to make them work. They sat for a while in a state of disrepair waiting for my skills to mature. A handful of stories set the tone for the collection. I always knew I wanted, David Sherman first and Rolling in my Six-Fo’ last. The novella showed up and kept expanding to a point that it needed to be the conclusion. The previously mentioned stories as well as Numbers and Electric Joy of Service blazed the trail for the newer stories.
Both your debut collection, Insurrections, and the new collection are set in the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland—the location of the only successful slave revolt in America. Were there any differences in how you chose to write about its inhabitants this time around vs. in your debut?
I feel like I understand Cross River better now than I did when I wrote Insurrections. I’ve spent more time imagining it now. The stories that failed previously, failed partly because my understanding of the town was more limited. In another ten years I imagine I will have an even better understanding of Cross River. I also wanted to work in some more non-realist modes in order to explore the more bizarre aspects of the town.
The theme of this issue of Auburn Avenue is “The South Got More to Say…” With Maryland being south of the Mason-Dixon line, are there some specific ideas and realities that you are addressing or conveying about the real American South, either indirectly or directly, with the fictional Cross River?
It amuses me how here in Maryland ( the parts of Maryland I know well, at least) we pretend we’ve left the South or something. It’s interesting to me to scratch the surface a little bit to examine what it means that we sit beneath the Mason-Dixon Line.
The World Doesn’t Require You is described as “shattering rigid genre lines.” Was is your intention to create a collection that defied genres? How do you view the importance of literary genres, vis a vis creating narratives?
I don’t know that I sat down and said, “Now I’m going to break rigid genre lines!” but I wanted to do things that are interesting to me. I often get ideas that make me think, “That would be good for a sci-fi story,” but then I realize I have this world in front of me that can be anything I want it to be.
What do you hope readers will experience with The World Doesn’t Require You?
I’m hoping that while reading time bends and the world falls away and readers find themselves dropped into their own personal versions of Cross River.
How closely do you draw from your—or your family’s—real life histories when creating fiction?
If you take a glass bottle and toss it up into the air so that when it hits the earth it shatters against the ground, and then you take the shards and glue them back together in the shape of a bird, then you no longer have a bottle, you’ve made something new. Any parts of my personal history I use in my fiction are only interesting to me as the rawest of raw material that I’m shaping into the form of a bird.
If you had one question you wished someone would ask you, either about your work or yourself, what would it be? Now, can you answer that question?
Ask me what’s the greatest Kung-Fu movie and I’ll tell you that there is not another that tops “Shaolin vs. Lama.”