Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

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Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

Stories

by Wells Tower

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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Beyond the Book

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About the Author
Wells Tower’s short stories and journalism have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Washington Post Magazine, and elsewhere. He received two Pushcart Prizes and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review.

According to The New York Observer, "Brown Coast", the opening story of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is the first short story Wells Tower wrote during his first year in the Columbia fiction program, which he joined in the fall of 2000.  It was published in the spring 2002 issue of The Paris Review after someone there discovered it in the slush pile.  "Down Through the Valley," another story from the collection, was published in The Paris Review in the fall of 2001.

Before enrolling in the Columbia MFA program, Mr. Tower, now 35, had spent much of his adult life playing guitar in a punk band called Hellbender, which formed in 1991 when he was a senior in high school.  Named after a species of giant salamander the band stayed together for six years even though its members were at different colleges.  One of the members was Al Burian, known in some circles for his zine, Burn Collector, the first 8 volumes of which are collected in a book of the same name. Starting in 1993 Tower and Burian published a zine together called Foodbox, which served as the primary outlet for Tower's writing until he got a job at the University of North Carolina Urban Planning Department and started writing a monthly  newsletter! 

Soon after, he got himself hired at DoubleTake, a literature and photography magazine run by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke.  He rose quickly from night manager, responsible for watering plants and locking up, to overseeing the now defunct magazine's website and sitting in on editorial meetings.  When the magazine was stripped of its funding and moved to Boston, Tower followed one of its former editors, David Rowell, to The Washington Post Magazine where he pitched a piece about what it's like to work for a traveling carnival - it was accepted even though he had no previous experience in journalism. 

According to David Rowell, "Wells is great about taking you into these worlds that you've never really considered before, whether it's long-haul trucking or the people who work at Walmart or a classical music piano competition ... His characters have these great visions of how things should be, and it’s very difficult for them to get to that place. These are characters who are often down on their luck—there's a kind of disappointment that spills into their lives that they are trying to rise above."

After completing the Columbia MFA program, Wells spent four years reporting for The Washington Post Magazine and Harper's, and all but forgot about fiction; until the spring of 2007 when he decided that he wanted to return to writing short stories - a number of which had now been published in magazines.  His agent started making calls and within a couple of weeks he was signed by Farrar Straus & Giroux for a short story collection and a novel. 

These days, Wells Tower spends much of his time in his Brooklyn apartment at one of two desks - his non-fiction desk which has an internet connection, and his fiction desk which doesn't.  He also spends time in the New York Public Library that apparently has a secret room set aside for writers with book contracts.  He is working on a novel "about family," and a film script.

Article by Lucia Silva

This article was originally published in April 2009, and has been updated for the February 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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