Andrew Sean Greer, Cohen Award

by Don Lee

Cohen Awards  Each year, we honor the best short story and poem published in Ploughshares with the Cohen Awards, which are wholly sponsored by our longtime patrons Denise and Mel Cohen. Finalists are nominated by staff editors, and the winners -- each of whom receives a cash prize of $600 -- are selected by our advisory editors. The 1997 Cohen Awards for work published in Ploughshares in 1996, Volume 22, go to Andrew Sean Greer and Campbell McGrath:

andrew sean greer for his story "Come Live with Me and Be My Love" in Fall 1996, edited by Richard Ford.

Andrew Sean Greer was born the son of chemists in Washington, D.C., in 1970 and was raised in the Maryland suburbs. He received his undergraduate degree from Brown University, where he won awards as a playwright and studied with Edmund White and Robert Coover. He was also chosen as commencement speaker for his class, and unexpectedly caused a semi-riot with his unrehearsed remarks, which critiqued Brown's admissions policies. ("I recently went to my college reunion," Greer says, "and my classmates had still not forgiven me.") He lived in New York City for two years, and after one paid writing assignment for a design magazine, which was killed for being "too flip," he supported himself with odd jobs: being a chauffeur for a television writer, driving boys to prep-school interviews in New England and posing as their ESL teacher, and running lights and sound for a downtown theater, "a job I had no qualifications for and, as was discovered on opening night, no talent." Last spring, Greer graduated from the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Montana, and now lives in Seattle. "Come Live with Me and Be My Love" was his first published story; his second appears in the August 1997 issue of Esquire. He is currently at work on a novel.

About his story, Greer writes: "For years I'd been fascinated by stories I'd heard of gay men and lesbians in the fifties in marriages of convenience, with secret tunnels under their houses so their lovers could sneak into hidden bedrooms, a suburban facade where next-door neighbors mowing lawns were all part of this literally underground society. Surely these were urban legends of the gay community-subterranean tunnels?-but they intrigued me. I couldn't, however, think of a way to portray them that wouldn't seem creepy or utterly dated. I also had always had a problem writing about love, since that's what I saw it as-some kind of tacky Romeo and Juliet tale, meeting through tunnels at night. No, that kind of love story had been seen before. And then much later, in one of those awful moments writers have at the keyboard, dreaming up ideas, I ranged through my memory for the saddest things I'd known, and I thought of the time I sat in the highest window of my empty apartment in Providence, watching my best friend sneak off into a cab, my roommate for years, tossing her bags into the back seat without a goodbye, and riding off away from me. She must have known I was up there watching. I'd never understood quite what I felt at that moment, why it felt like my fault, why you can't have romantic farewells with friends the way you can with lovers-as if friends couldn't break your heart, too. Somehow I thought again of those marriages of convenience, and how, as terrible as they were, there must have been something so touching about them, these barely acquainted spouses trapped together, like war buddies in a trench, so after everything, after all my frequent dismissals of romance, I ended up writing a love story after all."

Copyright © Don Lee

Fall 1997 Cover
Cover art by Nola Tully

Guest-edited by:
Mary Gordon
Photo by Nola Tully
Mary Gordon