Someone I'd Like You to Meet…

Elizabeth McKenzie  (photo: Gene Higa)
Elizabeth McKenzie  (photo: Gene Higa)

If you open the Atlantic magazine’s Fiction 2011 special issue, you’ll find “Someone I’d Like You to Meet.”

Written by UC Santa Cruz alumna Elizabeth McKenzie, it’s one of nine remarkable short stories included in the magazine by some of the finest fiction writers in the country today.

McKenzie is also the author of Stop That Girl, a collection of short stories (dubbed “anti-fairy tales” by NPR) that was published in 2006 by Random House, short-listed for The Story Prize, and was a Newsday and Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

The New York Times Book Review has said of that collection: "McKenzie is an accomplished humorist and a developed stylist, and she wastes no time dazzling the reader with her clean direct language, her simple but searing use of metaphor and her unflinching eye....McKenzie is an original."

Or as the East Bay Express put it: "McKenzie is funny, and her stories are wry and tuned to pop culture and politics. They inspire fantasies about being her best friend."

McKenzie has received a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction, and had a story chosen by Dave Eggers for his anthology Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is currently senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review.

“I’m really interested in writing about self-deception—people with huge blindspots,” says McKenzie. “I’m also interested in underdogs and outsiders—people who are angry and misunderstood.”

“I was surrounded by people like that growing up,” she adds.  “I took them for granted and didn’t know it wasn’t the norm. So I’m always comparing what the world is like to me now, to what I thought it was like as a child.“

McKenzie explored journalism all throughout high school, but it didn’t take. “I wasn’t good at journalism because I always exaggerated,” she notes.

A fan of the beat poets, she began taking poetry classes at UC Santa Cruz and eventually founded a literary magazine on campus. Several of the stories in Stop That Girl are based on her experiences at UCSC.

“A couple of the stories are pretty autobiographical—about getting financial aid and finding my way to Santa Cruz,” McKenzie says.

“S.O.S. is a story about a literary magazine I started called The Blunt Probe—we published three issues. Allen Ginsberg did a reading at UCSC, and agreed to submit something, and our drive up the coast together became the setting for the crisis in that story,” she adds.

McKenzie received a B.A. in Literature from UC Santa Cruz in 1981. She recently returned to campus to teach a class called The Art of Comedy: Literature and Performance as a Kresge lecturer from 2008 to 2010.

Her latest story in the Atlantic is an excerpt from an upcoming novel that McKenzie says will touch on a number of social issues. “There are a lot of medical issues in the book—about veterans, pharmaceutical companies…”

Although her debut novel MacGregor Tells the World was a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year,” and a San Francisco Chronicle “Notable Book,” McKenzie says it doesn’t get any easier the second time around.

“It’s Just as daunting to write a second novel as the first,” she observes. “Every new thing is like starting at square one. For every new idea, you have to discover the way to approach it, and it takes a long time—it’s not like I have a template.”

“I’ve been working on this one for three years now,” McKenzie adds. “I like the alchemy of throwing together different things I’m interested in at a given time, to see if I can get them to connect.”

“I like not knowing how, or if I can do it.”