We’re happy to announce that our latest chapbook winner, A Guest of the Program: Stories by Christopher Lowe, is out now! This collection of stories, chosen by judge Dennis Covington, examines the collegiate football recruitment system and the personal and political implications that can surface through close examination of that system.
In “Why I Write: Christopher Lowe” from Fiction Southeast, Lowe says that “Fiction is tool for empathy, yes, but it’s also a tool for memory. The metaphoric weight at fiction’s core gives us the chance to find a new language for the things that matter to us. When I sit down to write a story I might be trying to entertain or to instruct or to frighten or to move a reader, but underneath all of that what I’m saying is this: remember remember remember.”
Although the stories in A Guest of the Program are predominantly written in present tense or imperative, they are written as though they will be committed to memory. In the first line of the final story, “Once Upon a Time in Mississippi,” the narrator reveals the persistence of memory, saying: “These days, I try not to dwell on it.” Despite the narrator's efforts, we quickly see that he cannot help but to dwell on and investigate the significance of these memories that have accumulated throughout the course of his career, and are reflected throughout this chapbook collection.
About the stories in A Guest of the Program, Lowe says: “[they] reflect my ongoing fascination with the world of college football. I’ve been a fan of the game for a long time, and it becomes clearer to me every year that my fandom requires a sort of broad hypocrisy on my part. Football at the collegiate level has become a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business, but the athletes, the people who put their bodies and minds at risk to play the game, are uncompensated beyond tuition and some cost-of-living stipends. This has created a booster culture that is toxic. Players at nearly every major university are paid under the table, but they’re also judged for this by fans, coaches, and the sport’s governing body, the NCAA. Race and class also play a large role in this culture, which is willing to pay mostly white coaches millions of dollars while vilifying mostly poor and minority athletes for taking a few thousand dollars during their recruitment processes. Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney, who just won the national championship and was given one of the largest contracts in the country, said a year or so ago that he’d quit his job if athletes were ever paid, because it would be the end of amateurism. I find that kind of hypocrisy galling. And yet I still love the game. I love watching it on fall Saturdays. Some of the most interesting schematic work is done at the college level (certainly much more than the bland stick-with-what-works NFL). One of my happiest moments in the last few years was dancing in my living room with my wife and daughter after Ole Miss finally ended their losing streak against Alabama. These competing impulses—my disgust and love for the game—created a tension in me that gave rise to the stories in A Guest of the Program. I wanted to explore the hypocrisy and my own tendency to be willfully blind about many of these issues. College football is a microcosm for so much of what’s happening in America today with race and class. It’s a broken system, and if nothing else, fiction is a place to lay such systems bare.”
For those of you who are already missing football season or are looking for new stories to dive into, be sure to swing by our Submittable page to order your copy today!
Christopher Lowe is the author of Those Like Us: Stories (SFASU) and You’re the Tower: Essays (Yellow Flag Press). His writing has appeared widely in journals, including Third Coast, Bellevue Literary Review, Brevity, Baltimore Review, and War, Literature, and the Arts. He lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana with his wife and daughter, and teaches in the MFA program at McNeese State University.