Born in Columbia, SC; married; children: one daughter. Education: Case Western Reserve University, B.A.; Ohio State University, M.A., M.F.A.
Writer and editor; taught creative writing at Ohio State University, Butler University, and Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis; worked variously as a ghostwriter, busboy, room service waiter, clerical temp, landscaper, housemaid, process server, antique store salesperson, and baseball card dealer. On the staff of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.
Grants, fellowships, and scholarships from the Indiana Arts Commission, Arts Council of Indianapolis, Ohio Arts Council, and Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
What You Have Left (novel), Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Editor-at-large, Zoetrope: All Story; editor, Novel and Short Story Writer's Market; executive editor, Story (literary journal).
Will Allison taught creative writing at several universities and was an editor for two literary journals, Story and Zoetrope: All Story, and Novel and Short Story Writer's Market, a reference book for writers, before publishing his own first novel. As he notes on his Web site, he has also made a living as a "ghostwriter, busboy, room service waiter, clerical temp, landscaper, housemaid, process server, antique store salesperson, and baseball card dealer."
Allison has lived in several locations, including Charlotte, North Carolina, Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, and Indianapolis, Indiana, but he was born in Columbia, South Carolina, the capital city in which he sets his debut novel, What You Have Left. In reviewing the story for the PopMatters Web site, Claudia Smith Brinson opened by commenting that Allison "collects many of South Carolina's idiosyncrasies … and puts them to good use." This is the story of Holly, but it is also told in the voices of several other characters in both the first and third person, and it takes place over thirty-seven years, beginning in 1970. "Allison's writing is personal and direct, his characters are interesting but not quirky," wrote Christine Perkins in Library Journal. "Allison clearly empathizes with his characters' foibles," noted Booklist reviewer Deborah Donovan.
The eight chapters of the book tell the story, but not in chronological order. Holly was seven when her mother died of a blood clot that lodged in her lung, a result of a water skiing accident while her father, Wylie, was steering the boat. Wylie, who worked for an insurance agency, quit his job three days later and dropped Holly off at the home of her grandfather Cal, a loving dairy farmer who was to care for her for a week, but who raised her, beginning when she was five years old, when Wylie did not return to claim her.
Holly grows up to be an irresponsible young adult, but she finds love with Lyle, a hard-working and principled man who suffers from her eternal quest for Wylie and her self-abusive behavior. They meet when Lyle remodels the house in which Holly and Cal live and in which Cal soon dies after taking enough sleeping pills to end his life before he is made completely helpless from dementia. Lyle's burden is to rescue Holly from herself, her drinking, and her addiction to video poker. Holly and Lyle test each other, as when she gambles away their savings and when he climbs atop the statehouse in Columbia to remove a Confederate flag. When an aging Wylie, now a grandfather to the daughter of Holly and Lyle, takes over as narrator, his story is viewed from a different perspective, and the reader learns of other tragedies in his life. When Holly and Wylie reunite, the time and circumstances that had separated them no longer matter.
Brinson wrote: "The strength of Allison's writing lies in his ability to convey his characters' weaknesses without undue analyzing" and also "in his ability to convey, in a delicate and kind manner, his characters' goodness, conveyed through the particulars that teach the universal: small and daily good deeds, the difficult love of couples and parents, the tricky negotiations among generations."
Sarah Lupton reviewed What You Have Left for the Independent Weekly Online, writing that "Allison capably explores the enduring bonds that link family together, whether it is through hereditary cowardice, addiction or possibly acceptance as the characters struggle to settle for what they have left." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Allison's story is "tender, smart and efficiently told." A Publishers Weekly contributor found What You Have Left to be a "beautifully written debut novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2007, Deborah Donovan, review of What You Have Left, p. 69.
Entertainment Weekly, June 8, 2007, Thom Geier, review of What You Have Left, p. 85.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2007, review of What You Have Left, p. 183.
Library Journal, June 15, 2007, Christine Perkins, review of What You Have Left, p. 54.
Publishers Weekly, January 22, 2007, Judith Rosen, review of What You Have Left, p. 65; April 9, 2007, review of What You Have Left, p. 30.
Washington Post Book World, July 15, 2007, Lily King, review of What You Have Left, p. 6.
Independent Weekly Online,http://www.indyweek.com/ (June 6, 2007), Sarah Lupton, review of What You Have Left.
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (June 28, 2007), Claudia Smith Brinson, review of What You Have Left.
Will Allison Home Page,http://www.willallison.com (March 13, 2008).