English students and professors gathered in UTCC to hear novelist Ryan Gattis read from his latest work “All Involved” on Thurday, April 14. The novel is currently undergoing pre-production with HBO’s film production—with Gattis placed as executive producer—and is available online and in bookstores.
The book encompasses the vivid brutality of the Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King case in 1992. Just two hours after the incident, the city reacted in a violent uprising that lasted six days. Gattis’ novel paints a picture of South Central L.A. during this time through 17 distinct first-person character narrations.
After Gattis read a chapter in his book, Department of English associate professor Michael Dean Clark, Ph.D., led a Q&A session discussing Gattis’ inspirations and multiple year long writing process.
Gattis said a huge lesson he learned as a writer is the importance of staying connected with people, despite the popular notion that writers must remain in isolation when working. In addition to engaging in conversations with people, Gattis explained how he familiarized himself with L.A.
“We are the most photographed, least understood and in some cases the least seen city on Earth,” Gattis said. “I had to walk, I had to talk to people, I had to try a lot of different types of food because that is such a gateway to different cultures and understanding what people value.”
He also shared his own past experiences of physical violence and his ability to relate to the survivors he interviewed in preparation of his novel.
In addition to his interviewing process, Gattis spent many months while planning his novel getting to know gang members and other misguided members in society to ensure the story’s authenticity.
“This was the worst civic disturbance in the history of the United States of America,” Gattis said about the Rodney King case. “It was everywhere. I’d do an event in Sweden and folks would say, ‘I remember watching that on television.'”
Gattis explained that the images of the police beating Rodney King were so globally powerful that it stirred an experience for everyone.
In regards to his book, he said his particular attention to detail and research allowed him to write about the issues of life on the streets realistically.
“One of the highest bits of praise I’ve ever gotten from somebody within that world [was] when he read [a section from “All Involved” and said] ‘reading your writing felt like getting stabbed again.'”
Gattis explained that he takes writing about violence very personally and does his best to do it in an authentic way.
Clark said attending author conferences heightens students’ drive for their own projects. He said attendees, whether future writers, social workers, or teachers, can learn from Gattis that telling people’s stories may help the people whose stories are being told.
“That’s why I teach storytelling,” Clark said. “When you learn to write storytelling, you have to listen. I think Gattis did a good job of underscoring that the more you listen, the better the story is going to be.”
Sophomore English major Hayley Jull and junior English major Alexandra Sincere said they were particularly inspired by Gattis’ emphasis on human connection.
“He talked about how human connection is so important to writing,” Sincere said. “That’s not something I hear a lot as a writer because I feel like I should be more of an introvert and I’m not. I love connecting with people.”
Sincere explained that she includes qualities in her characters that she finds in people.
“It was really validating to hear that he thinks the same way,” she said.
Jull also reflected on Gattis’ relationship with people.
“He talked about how important it was to sit down and talk with people and how they were able to share experiences with each other,” Jull said.