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How to Wrestle a Girl: Stories (MCD x FSG)
Hilarious, tough, and tender stories from a farseeing star on the rise
Venita Blackburn’s characters bully and suffer, spit and tease, mope and blame. They’re hyperaware of their bodies and fiercely observant, fending off the failures and advances of adults with indifferent ease. In “Biology Class,” they torment a teacher to the point of near insanity, while in “Bear Bear Harvest™,” they prepare to sell their excess fat and skin for food processing. Stark and sharp, hilarious and ominous, these pieces are scabbed, bruised, and prone to scarring.
Many of the stories, set in Southern California, follow a teenage girl in the aftermath of her beloved father’s death and capture her sister’s and mother’s encounters with men of all ages, as well as the girl’s budding attraction to her best friend, Esperanza. In and out of school, participating in wrestling and softball, attending church with her hysterically complicated family, and dominating boys in arm wrestling, she grapples with her burgeoning queerness and her emerging body, becoming wary of clarity rather than hoping for it.
A rising star, Blackburn is a trailblazing stylist, and in How to Wrestle a Girl she masterfully shakes loose a vision of girlhood that is raw, vulnerable, and never at ease.
Venita Blackburn is the author of the story collection Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and was a finalist for the 2018 Young Lions Fiction Award and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Her stories have appeared in The Paris Review, Pleiades, Madison Review, Bat City Review, American Short Fiction, and Bellevue Literary Review. She is a faculty member in the creative writing program at Fresno State University and the founder and president of Live, Write, an organization devoted to offering free creative writing workshops for communities of color.
Laura van den Berg is the author of the story collections What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, The Isle of Youth, and I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, which was named one the ten best fiction books of 2020 by TIME, and the novels Find Me and The Third Hotel, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and an Indie Next pick, and was named a best book of 2018 by more than a dozen publications. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Strauss Living Award and a Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Bard Fiction Prize, a PEN/O. Henry Award, and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and is a two-time finalist for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Born and raised in Florida, Laura splits her time between the Boston area and Central Florida, with her husband and dog.
Praise for How to Wrestle a Girl:
"Venita Blackburn’s How to Wrestle a Girl is bold and inventive, moving between sharp realism and work that shifts the rules of form, the body, or the physical world, finding new ways to tell the stories of how girls are taught to be girls. Blackburn has the talent to put words to the things we thought existed just outside of language, but she also has the wise restraint to bring us just close enough to look directly at the things there aren’t words for and leave them unsaid." --Danielle Evans, author of The Office of Historical Corrections
“At some point while reading How to Wrestle a Girl, I stopped wondering how Venita Blackburn writes perfect story after perfect story. Just know that these stories are playful, funny, moving, strange, and above all: perfect.” --Rion Amilcar Scott, author of The World Doesn't Require You
"There’s a wild imagination at work in Venita Blackburn's brilliant stories, and a nimbleness of language that delivers unforgettable characters hell bent to tell it like it is." --Pamela Painter, author of Fabrications
"How to Wrestle a Girl is a work of stunning grace and rhythm. In these stories Venita Blackburn reminds us she is a writer unlike any other, her stories propelled by voice and wit and harsh beauty." --Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black