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Wayne State University Press

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Meet Behind Mars

Stories by Renee Simms

Award Winner

Fiction, African American Studies

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: May 2018
ISBN: 9780814345122
Pages: 244 Size: 5.5 x 8.5
Published: May 2018
ISBN: 9780814345139

"I feel like I can’t tell one story about a giant mustard penis because it’s not about a mustard penis only, but about all of these incidents together, in context, and through time." So begins the title story in Renee Simms’s debut short story collection, Meet Behind Mars—a revealing look at how geography, memory, ancestry, and desire influence our personal relationships.

In many of her stories, Simms exposes her own interest in issues concerning time and space. For example, in "Rebel Airplanes," an L.A. engineer works by day on city sewers and by night on R-C planes that she yearns to launch into the cosmos. The character-driven stories in Meet Behind Mars offer beautiful insight into the emotional lives of caretakers, auto workers, dancers, and pawn shop employees. In "High Country," a frustrated would-be novelist considers ditching her family in the middle of the desert. In "Dive," an adoptee returns to her adoptive home, still haunted by histories she does not know. Simms writes from the voice of women and girls who struggle under structural oppression and draws from the storytelling tradition best represented by writers like Edward P. Jones, whose characters have experiences that are specific to black Americans living in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One instance of this is in "The Art of Heroine Worship," in which black families integrate into a white suburb of Detroit in the 1970s.

The stories in this collection span forty years and two continents and range in structure from epistolary to traditionally structured realism, with touches of absurdity, humor, and magic. Meet Behind Mars will appeal to readers interested in contemporary literary fiction.

Renee Simms is assistant professor of African American studies and contributing faculty to English studies at University of Puget Sound. Her work has been widely published, appearing in Callaloo, Southwest Review, North American Review, Salon, and elsewhere. She received a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

Renee Simms’s Meet Behind Mars is an eclectic, emotionally rich, funny, quirky, and grounded debut from a fresh voice. It is truly a pleasure to spend time among such a diverse roster of African American characters in settings ranging from Katrina-devastated New Orleans to the South China Sea. In these fictions that are, by turns, realist, fabulist, and satirical, women and men search out life’s meaning through work, sex, travel, and family in finely observed moments full of quiet urgency.

– Asali Solomon, author of Disgruntled

With penetrating wit and precise literary detail, Renee Simms gives us eleven dazzling stories that uplift, entertain, and welcome her readers into the emotional and spiritual ‘inner spaces’ of unforgettable characters.

– Melissa Pritchard, author of A Solemn Pleasure

Renee Simms writes from the heart of our shared contemporary moment. These stories are both easy and hard to read, familiar and frustrating both, this mix compelling throughout. These are African American lives fully offered, and women’s lives in particular. As readers, we cannot emerge from this book unmoved.

– Alberto Rios, author of A Small Story about the Sky

Renee Simms is an incredible storyteller gifted with both wit and wisdom. She’s not afraid of the hard questions, yet this work brims with hope and heart. Meet Behind Mars marks an exciting debut of a vibrant new voice in American literature.

– Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage and Silver Sparrow

Outstanding short story collection. Excellent characterization in each story. I loved the range of characters and their circumstances as well as the settings from Detroit to Los Angeles to the Pacific Northwest. Very efficient narrative style. Crisp, confident storytelling. By far one of the best collections of the year.

– Roxane Gay, Goodreads

Renee Simms crafts stories that are so potent that they take up very little space on the page, but her characters are fully realized. The reader learns so much about them through the right details and tightly crafted narratives. The inner and outer lives of the women in these stories are as gripping as an action movie and as immersive as the best character drama, but these stories aren't noisy. They're acute, weird, broad, breathtaking, and beautiful.

– Sarah Neilson, Necessary Fiction

Simms' experiments with domestic realism but also fabulism and satire; she has crafted beautifully deep, tangible characters, and their dialogue is some of the best that I've read recently. Meet Behind Mars is a collection to be treasured.

– Ariel Saramandi, The Weekend Review

The stories in Meet Behind Mars by Renee Simms touch on womanhood, family, sacrifice, and morals. Some of the tales are twisted with a bit of surrealism, a little Twilight Zone to counterbalance the absolutely real, cramped truth of growing up not only period, but a woman and black. [...] Simms does an exceptional job detailing the hardships of existence without making it one-dimensional. Her characters don't find life troublesome necessarily because of their gender or race, but because life itself is troublesome; however, it's extremely pleasant, too, if you allow it to be.

– Cody Lee, NewPages.com

This little book of short stories has been compared stylistically to the words of Toni Cade Bambara and Edward P. Jones. I would probably throw in Rion Amilcar Scott as another fine example of what you'll find in these pages. Although these are heavy shoes to fill, Renee Simms with this collection, is uniquely qualified to fill them and does it with aplomb.

– Columbus, Goodreads

The book deserves to be read more widely, savored, and carefully listed as a required text on spring-semester syllabi across the world. It’s short enough to enjoy in one day, but you’ll likely still be thinking about the stories long after you’ve closed the book.

– Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Long Reads

  • 2018 Foreword INDIES Book Awards - Result: Finalist in the Short Stories category