Melissa Scholes Young read some select pieces of her debut novel, Flood, at the Argenta Reading Series on July 20. The event also featured poet Allison Joseph, a former professor at UALR.
Young teaches writing at the American University in Washington, D.C., and her work has been published in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Poets & Writers, and more.
Joseph directs the master of fine arts program in creative writing at Southern Illinois University, and her 2018 poetry collection, “Confessions of a Barefaced Woman,” is a nominee in the poetry category of the 2019 NAACP Image Awards.
Flood is focused in the hometown of Mark Twain; her protagonist, Laura Brooks; and Young herself – Hannibal, Missouri. There are some parallels between Young and Laura, but she says she does not see the character as a representation of herself.
“We are very polite in my hometown,” Young said. “So, anyone who went to high school with me would not think, in any way, that Laura Brooks is me… because I never went home again.”
Even though outsiders think of Hannibal as a tourist town and the birthplace of a great writer, Young’s book reflects the Hannibal she knows, a God-and-guns-loving small town that she grew up in and eventually left. She describes the world of a small town, where no one seems to welcome change, and her complicated relationship with it.
“Change comes very slowly, which can be incredibly frustrating,” Young said.
She mentioned a newer museum in Hannibal, Jim’s Journey, which unfortunately isn’t as well-known, even among locals. Even though Twain’s Jim character was important and interesting in his novels, his story is not well-represented in the larger museum there that honors Mark Twain. Jim’s Journey tells the story of the person Jim was based on, Daniel Quarles, and the status of African Americans in Hannibal during Twain’s time.
Young captures the strange feeling of returning home and associating home with one’s past. Laura explains the reason she felt she had to leave home: “It’s hard to move forward in a town stuck in time.”