Julia Dixon Evans: How to Set Yourself on Fire

Colorado College’s Visiting Writers Series kicked off with a reading from Julia Dixon Evans, author of the recently published book “How to Set Yourself on Fire.”

Although this is Evans’ debut novel, she is no stranger to the literary world. She has published numerous short stories, nonfiction pieces, and poetry. She is a Senior Columns Editor for the independent literary magazine The Coil, nonfiction editor for the journal Noble Gas Quarterly, and she is the former program director for a literary nonprofit called So Say We All. When introducing Evans to the small crowd that gathered in McHugh Commons on Tuesday night, English professor Natanya Pulley praised the author’s work and mentioned the extensive experience that she has with both writing and editing, calling her a “literary citizen.”

Evans approached the podium to a polite applause from the audience, which was comprised mostly of participants in the Introduction to Fiction Writing class taught by professor Pulley. Many of these students had brought a copy of their book and took the opportunity to read along with the author, who started from the first chapter of her new book.

“How to Set Yourself on Fire” is a novel that follows the events that occur after the death of the main character’s grandmother. Sheila, an insomniac in her 30s with a tumultuous relationship with her mother, is left a collection of love letters by her dead grandmother — love letters to her grandmother written by a suitor who wasn’t her grandfather. The novel follows Shelia as she pieces together the stories from the letters and reflects on her own life and relationships.

As someone hearing the story for the first time, “How to Set Yourself on Fire” sounds like a book that was meant to be read aloud. The passages that Evans read were entirely in first-person, present tense, making her words sound like something out of a personal podcast or a memoir. However, the flowing story-line was interrupted with Evans’ humorous side-notes about her inner musings while writing.

While sitting down with Evans after the reading, I asked her how she decides which sections of her book to share when she does a reading. “I think I’m really driven by having it be entertaining,” Evans said. She added that she liked to give the readers a sense of the themes in the book, “to get a taste of the different elements.” Although this is something she said she liked to do with all her readings, she contrasted the experience of reading at CC with her other public reading experiences. “Comfortable and free” are the words that she used to describe the feeling of “knowing the students had read my work.” Evans said that the Visiting Writers Series was something “really special” because she felt like she was “reading with scholars and reading with people that understand [her work].”

The next author to be featured in CC’s Visiting Writers Series is poet, Diane Seuss who will be reading on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. in Gaylord Hall.

Bella Staal

Bella Staal

Bella Staal

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