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CoastLine: Sara Johnson Allen on writing her first novel and how place shapes us

Sara Johnson Allen in the WHQR studio, August 2023
RLH
Sara Johnson Allen in the WHQR studio, August 2023

Down Here We Come Up, which took more than fifteen years to write, started as an exploration of the jarring class differences between the northern and southern United States.  But the novel Sara Johnson Allen actually completed, set just outside of Wilmington, NC, raises even deeper questions about what defines family and a home place, and whether ancestral ties are enough. 

Sara Johnson Allen always enjoyed writing, but as a kid, she never considered it a potential vocation. Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina with nearby relatives who farmed tobacco and then poultry and then hogs, she found herself in upstate New York for sixth grade when her preacher father moved the family.

She returned to North Carolina in time for her junior year of high school, went off to Guilford College and started a career in sales.

It wasn’t until she landed a job at Emerson College in Boston and took a fiction-writing workshop on a lark that she recognized writing as a calling.

She listened to that calling and enrolled in Emerson’s MFA program. Nearly twenty years later, her work explores place, how it shapes us, and what it means to be displaced and replaced.

Down Here We Come Up is Sara Johnson Allen's first novel (dubbed "a literary mic drop" by Alena Dillon) available August 1, 2023 through Black Lawrence Press.
Black Lawrence Press
Down Here We Come Up is Sara Johnson Allen's first novel (dubbed "a literary mic drop" by Alena Dillon) available August 1, 2023 through Black Lawrence Press.

Down Here We Come Up, which took more than fifteen years to write, started as an exploration of what Sara Johnson Allen describes as the jarring class differences between the northern and southern United States. Set in southeastern North Carolina, the book Black Lawrence Press ultimately published, though, raises even deeper questions about what defines family and a home place, and whether ancestral ties are enough.

Sara Johnson Allen’s short fiction has appeared in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Reckon Review. She’s won at least three literary awards, and Down Here We Come Upis her first novel.

Links & resources:

Sara Johnson Allen

Black Lawrence Press

Alejandra Oliva,Rivermouth

Corban Addison, Wastelands

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.