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Written by Callie Renfrow & Noelle Hisnanick

Photography by Julia Madden Sears

 
 

It’s hard to be in a room with Mitchell Herring without smiling. You can usually find him sitting in a coffee shop, wearing one of his many unique sweaters, writing about anything from a boy cashing in his braces for a leather jacket to a middle-aged woman looking for romance by way of a newspaper ad. For Mitchell, a poet and a writer of fiction and nonfiction, stories are everywhere—to him, nothing is ordinary. The grandson of a Pentecostal preacher, the younger brother to a sister nicknamed Bug, and a perpetual noticer, Mitchell chronicles stories for those who can’t yet speak for themselves.

 
 
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Growing up in an area of South Carolina known as Puddin’ Swamp has inspired Mitchell to ground his stories in a strong sense of place. “Shooting Stars and Satellites” is a short story set in “Cobbler,” a place based on his hometown. This story is an example of how Mitchell tries to give a voice to ordinary people; Mary-Anne and Mary-Ellen, best friends known as “the Marys,” are two characters who don’t usually appear, “in the movies,” Mitchell says. With their story, he shows the power and inadequacies of friendship as well as the lure and disappointment of conforming to cultural mandates and defining oneself by someone else’s standards.

One of Mitchell’s major influences, Flannery O’Connor, is also a writer who found her foundation in the Deep South and in the depths of confounding faith. Mitchell, like O’Connor, finds substance in the lives of the fallen and the yearning, the people who, in all their human frailty, make us laugh and then catch us off guard with a deeper truth. For Mitchell, a greeter at Wal-Mart or a teenager in the throes of first love is equally deserving of attention. In fact, you might say that Mitchell’s compelling and compassionate world-view consists of this: “I see a story behind that,” whatever or whoever that might be.

 
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Mitchell encourages other writers to do what he strives to do: “Allow your story to live on its own…allow it to breathe.” Of “Shooting Stars and Satellites,” Mitchell says that, originally, he wanted the Marys to end up happy and contented with the deep friendship that they’d found in one another, but his plans changed when he realized that it was their story, not his. “Sometimes your characters want more than you think they want,” Mitchell says with a smile. After AU, Mitchell plans to attend graduate school to study literature and writing, but he does not want to use his education to draw attention to himself; instead, he wants to use it to tell the stories of others in a way that is true to the human experience. His goal is to give voice to the lives of ordinary people such as a boy with braces, parents who shake their heads but keep trying, or two friends waiting for love in a small town named Cobbler.

 

PILLOW TALK

Mitchell Dallas Herring

Sometimes at night I can hear you dreaming.
You reach out in your sleep,
and occasionally a murmur escapes
as you hold out your hand
over the side of the bed.
One night,
I could hear you being frightened.
In a fit, you pushed down the sheets
and rolled over facing me.
You whispered,
How do I get there? still asleep.
Quietly, I told you, Simply go.
Your body moved closer to mine
as I closed my eyes. I thought
maybe I could dream with you,
and in that dream, we did go together.
I was the person you took
to wherever it was you thought you couldn’t go.

BUZZARDS

Mitchell Dallas Herring

Mama confronted me with a, “Be careful,” when she found my first love poem. I left it
folded up on the counter above the trash can, meaning to throw it out with the food
we left for the vultures. I’m sure it read like a nursery rhyme more than a love letter,
with terrible end-rhymes and clichéd confessions about my lack of sleep. Mama went
through this with my sister.
Ethan Sharp broke Haley’s heart in the middle school hallway. He asked her
out at lunch when she let him have her bag of tropical flavored Skittles. By the end
of fourth block he had finished the Skittles and broken her heart. “I didn’t mean
‘girlfriend’ like that. I meant, like, a ‘friend’ that’s a girl.”
At home, her wailing synced with the music coming from her stereo speakers:
sad girl-with-guitar music, the only thing getting her by. She locked herself in the
room for two hours before she let Mama in. Inside, Mama held Haley’s head in her
lap on the bed, cooing, “Bug, it’s going to be all right.”
“But he just wanted my Skittles. I’m so much better than Skittles.”
“One day, you’ll find a boy who knows that.”
Mama tried, but no one can soothe the pain of middle school heartbreak. Haley kept
crying because “One day,” Mama explained, “doesn’t always mean tomorrow.
Sometimes it takes years.”
Haley cried again later when it took longer than that.
For my thirteenth birthday, my grandfather nudged me and asked if I wished for
love when I blew out the candles. He’d heard about the poem and asked, “Who’s it about?”
I said, “No one,” retracting my poem’s claim, ashamed I was a boy losing sleep
over something other than candy.

PARANOIA FROM '93

Mitchell Dallas Herring

Doe eyes, stop believing
only the attractive
makes you feel at home.
Think about our trip
to the pound. You said,
“I want every single one!”
I asked, “What about the one
with three legs?” You replied,
“I want him most!”
Love yourself the way you love
mutts in cages, and if you could,
love me that way too.
Love me most.