Danielle Evans’ brilliantly titled short story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (a quote from ‘The Bridge Poem’ by Donna Kate Rushin) covers a range of themes from being a teenager to race and class and complicated families. Showing us the yearning we have to be loved and wanted by our parents, these stories are fun, thought-provoking and whip-smart.

Tell us about the bookshelves in your home.

Right now I have two large gold bookshelves in my living room. I live in an old church and my office is in the balcony loft, so I have dreams of eventually installing floating shelves on the balcony walls, but so far I have not taken action to make it so – this may motivate me! The majority of my books live at my office, so the books in my house tend to be a mix of brand new things or things I’ve read many times and love so much that I have copies in both places because I can’t bear to be without them. There isn’t really much of an organisational system beyond constantly trying to make new books fit!

Which books are your most recent bookshelf additions?

I just bought Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm which as soon as the semester ends I’m planning to take off the shelf for pleasure reading! I also just got around to making shelf room for the dazzling books I got to keep after reading for last year’s Aspen Prize, including the winner, Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal & Nev.

Do you judge people by their bookshelves?

I draw conclusions about people from their bookshelves, but usually it’s more curiosity than judgement, just another way of knowing more about who a person is. I did, years ago, get a text from a friend who had accompanied a man home from the bar and discovered his bookshelves held only biographies of Henry Kissinger, and I did judge that man and tell her she should make an excuse and go home.

Chaotic glamour by Danielle Evans

Which is your most treasured book?

This feels like a trick question because in the first place I have at least a dozen that are equally treasured for different reasons, and in the second place at both my home and my office I keep all my best-loved books on one shelf and I would never want any of my writer friends to come over and recognise that shelf and not see their own books on it!

What do your bookshelves say about you?

I mean, I am going for a kind of chaotic glamour but whether or not I’ve gotten there isn’t really for me to say.

What’s the oldest book on your shelves?

I haven’t ventured much into book collecting, so I don’t have a lot of physically old books, but perhaps my only first edition was a gift from my stepmother’s mother, who passed away a few years ago. She had been one of Toni Morrison’s college roommates and gave me a signed first-edition of Jazz when I finished graduate school. In terms of the text itself (and possibly one of the books I’ve had the longest) I also still have the copy of the Iliad we all had to read the summer before college in order to be prepared for the first day of Lit Hum.

Do you rearrange your bookshelves often – and where do your replaced books go?

I used to just take all of the books that no longer fit on my home shelves to my office at work which seemed to have infinite shelf space, but it turns out that space is indeed finite, and I’m now at the point where I need to pack of some books and become friends with a resale shop!

Do you have any books from your childhood on your shelves?

My surviving childhood books that haven’t already been given away to actual children are very, shall we say, well-loved, and mostly verging on disintegration, so some of them live on a less public shelf with the photo albums and others in a keepsake trunk.

Book lender, book giver or book borrower?

I’m a professor, so I give books out a lot. Most of the time students are good about eventually returning them, but every once in a while one vanishes – I don’t keep good records of whom I’ve given what, but when a book disappears I just assume it found its way to a student who loved it so much they forgot it hadn’t always belonged to them. If the author has signed a book in a way that’s particularly precious to me, I do buy a back-up copy so I’m not lending out my signed copy!

Whose bookshelves are you most curious about?

Everyone’s? I think being nosy is probably an occupational hazard! 

Introduced and compiled by Sonia Weir

Danielle Evans is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University and the author of two short story collections, The Office of Historical Corrections and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Her first collection won the PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Hurston-Wright award for fiction, and the Paterson Prize for fiction; her second won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and The Bridge Book Award and was a finalist for The Aspen Prize, The Story Prize, and The LA Times Book prize for fiction. She is the 2021 winner of The New Literary Project Joyce Carol Oates Prize, a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts fellow, and a 2011 National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree. Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is published by Picador in paperback and eBook.
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Sonia Weir is a contributing editor to Bookanista. She started the Ultimate Reads and Recommendations Facebook group in December 2018, which now has over 700 members from all over the world. The group is inclusive and aimed at every reader, no matter the books, authors or genre.
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