New Orleans author and native Maurice Carlos Ruffin, who will present tonight at the Room 220 Happy Hour Salon honoring the 2015 Tennessee Williams Festival Fiction and Poetry Contest Winners, has had a string of publishing and contest successes lately, including new stories in Callaloo, Massachusetts Review, and Cicada, and forthcoming in Kenyon Review, The Pinch, and The New Delta Review.
Recently, Ruffin, who is a past finalist for the Tennessee Williams Contest, won the 2014 Iowa Review Award for his story “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You,” selected by Rachael Kushner. An editor of the esteemed lit journal Ploughshares selected this story to feature on its blog as The Best Short Story I Read In A Lit Mag This Week:
“I’ve grown to feel that the direct address of second person point-of-view—you—feels like a forced intimacy. There’s an insistence that isn’t necessarily requited, a desperation that meshes perfectly with the plight of the main character of Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s compelling “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You,” which details a few days in the life of a teenage prostitute in New Orlean’s French Quarter.
We meet the narrator as he’s working the street corner and is approached by one of his regulars, Mr. Jellnik, “…the only one who buy you food after he do his business.” Jellnik is from Idaho, and offers the narrator to fly him back to Idaho, where he lives, where he’ll be more safe than working the streets of the Quarter. The narrator responds, “Why do you care about what happen to me?”
That question, why does Jellnik care, why does anyone care, is central to the narrator’s position. Is it for love, or at least something reaching towards it? The narrator’s world requires him to act intimately when he doesn’t feel it, force himself to pretend he’s attracted to Johns even if he feels they are disgusting. Intimacy is about money and sex is about survival. It’s a job. If someone cares, there has always been an ulterior motive. In his own words, “…if you don’t fake it, what else you got?”
Watch a video of Ruffin reading “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You,” produced by the Iowa Review.