One evening when I was eight or nine, the Texas sky broke into a classic afternoon thunderstorm. It would be over before dinner. But the rain raged through the evening and the power in our house went out. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked my mom. Without TV, the computer. “Read a book,” she suggested. Read a book? I’d rather count my leg hairs one by one.
Months later, on a day spent home sick from school, I ended up reading a book. Then I read another, then another. I reread books until the covers fell off and the spines split. Although I didn’t realize this at the time, whenever I read, I looked for myself in the pages: a word or a phrase or a character that felt familiar. I felt less alone realizing a part of someone else’s brain overlapped with mine. That’s still why I read.
I came to writing in a roundabout way. There was an attempted novel about Neopets in the fifth grade and some very cringe-worthy poetry in high school. And then, in college, I joined a DIY punk band. We named ourselves Genovia Forever (like The Princess Diaries). I wrote lyrics about princess lessons but also abuse and healing. I could be as intimate and personal as I wanted because during our shows, I screamed the lyrics in an indecipherable sludge. No one could tell what I was saying, but they danced anyway.
Meanwhile, I was directing and acting, and moved to Chicago to pursue theatre, but quickly realized that playing characters and working with others’ words wasn’t for me anymore. I needed an art that was all my own. I started writing strange performance pieces and devised plays based on my own experiences. The performance aspect of my work fell away, and I was left with just the words, and finally, I felt at home in a mode of expression.
This led me to apply to graduate school, and I recently earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There, I discovered a love of fiction and found my voice: one that balances humor and pain, lightness and darkness, and always veers toward weird. I’ve written stories about a lesbian couple who is forced to reckon with their relationship after watching a monster truck show, and a father and daughter who bond over hunting rattlesnakes in the desert. I’m currently working on a novel about a girl in Texas who is forced to take up the family business of dachshund racing when her mother gets wrapped up in a scandal and can no longer race.
Now, when I think back to the girl who combed pages of books looking for herself, I hope my own writing can inspire the same feeling in others by providing language for complicated feelings or experiences. While making them laugh, too.
My southern-ness and gayness are huge parts of my identity and my writing, and I am so happy to join Sundress Publications as an editorial intern, so I can take part in the work they do uplifting underrepresented voices and providing a platform for amazing writing and poetry.
Kathleen Gullion is a writer based in Houston. Her work has appeared in the Esthetic Apostle, Coachella Review, F Newsmagazine, and others. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.