Smoking With Allison Williams

by Michael Landweber Read the Story December 16, 2013

Allison, congrats on your story. It is a take on the immigrant experience that really resonates. What led you to write this story?

A photography project, actually! I was in London, taking pictures of people with “the most important thing you’re carrying with you,” and I had a conversation with the real “Jay.” His most important item was his passport, and he told me about being evicted and having to pack his friend’s sacred objects in a hurry. So that was the bones. Meeting so many people who want to work and can’t, whether from immigration status or parenthood or British classism, made the flesh.

Do you usually write flash fiction? Or did it just seem appropriate for Śūnyatā?

I didn’t know flash fiction existed when I wrote it—it was the right length for the piece at the time. A writing contest last year lead me to revisit short pieces, and that’s where I first heard the term “flash.” I’m not the world’s best plotter, so flash really suits me—it’s fun to capture a moment with tension and conflict, without having to sustain it through thousands of words.

You have a seriously cool day job running your own aerial acrobatics company. How did you get into that? Any plans to write about that world?

My training is in mask and movement theatre, and when I was an artist-in-residence, I had students who had started learning aerial silks. I had access to space, and we started working out moves. Ten years later, it’s a company of 11, and we perform all over the world for theatres, festivals, and corporate events. The constant travel is a great source for writing, and I’ve done a few things—mostly nonfiction—about circus specifically. My biggest hit so far was an essay, “Reality,” for Magic Magazine, about our appearance on a reality show that I call America’s Got Lawsuits (If You Reveal The Ending Before The Episode Airs). It really resonated with a lot of other contestants, and I was glad to be able to show people that their traumatic experience was not unique..

What’s next on your plate? What are you writing now?

I’m working on a short play for the high school market that will be a spoof of the complete works of Shakespeare—38 plays in 38 minutes. It’s called “Postcards from Shakespeare,” and it’s been fun finding a hook that makes it different from the other Shakespeare spoofs out there. My biggest challenge is making time to write when I change time zones, and that’s the big thing on my plate right now—writing every day. I touch down in a new place and spend the first day finding internet and a coffee shop, which are not always a default combination in the developing world. I’m so thankful that the Middle East is a coffee shop culture—I’m living over a mall in Dubai, and there are eight of them!

About the Author:

Allison Williams is a storyteller, journalist and trapeze artist. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Crossed Genres and Magic Magazine. She has spoken on CBC Canada and NPR, and is a two-time winner of The Moth StorySLAM.