The Paris Review

These Are Not the Margins: An Interview with Bryan Washington

Bryan Washington describes himself as a writer from Houston, but it might be more accurate to say he’s a writer of Houston. His work not only observes the city, it seems to create it anew. The words rustle through the trees and stomp new cracks in the sidewalk. Washington’s fiction and essays range from food, film, and the arts to sexuality, gentrification, and blackness in America. No matter the topic, his work is steeped in Houston, conjuring the city with equal parts empathy and pride to create a distinct feeling of home.

In his debut short-story collection, Lot, an unlabeled map serves as a frontispiece, and the stories, each named after a different area in Houston, fill in the space. Washington’s characters share the same streets, roaming their city and singing a collective history. In the story “Alief,” a neighborhood relishes in the drama of an extramarital affair; “Shepherd” follows a boy sorting through shame and sexuality with a visiting cousin; and a young man finds job security with a veteran drug dealer in “South Congress.”

Throughout these stories lives a recurring narrator, a young man growing up in a rapidly transforming city, sorting through his scattered family, his queerness, and his black Latino identity. Houston is a constant, but as the force of gentrification builds in the wake of Harvey, the narrator is forced to choose between leaving and staying. His transition into adulthood is haunted by the ghosts of people who have left, restaurants that have closed, and muddied baseball fields. In the final story, “Elgin,” Washington writes, “Houston is molting. The city

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