George Garrett Fiction Prize Winner - Colorado Book Award Winner
Reading the West Award Longlist
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Advance Praise for MIXED COMPANY
"I don't know the last time I devoured so quickly—so completely—a book of short fiction. The stories in Mixed Company are breezy, vivid, at turns delightful and aching—and quite serious. Truly, across chasms of gender, race, and class, across generations and just across town, these stories aim to do nothing less than remind us of the messiness and grace of reaching out to one another."
-Joe Wilkins, author of Fall Back Down When I Die and The Mountain and the Fathers
"Jenny Shank can write about anything and it is full of love and promise and grace, and she is not sentimental. I don't think one story yet has passed by without bringing tears to my eyes."
- Lucia Berlin, New York Times Bestselling author of A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories
About MIXED COMPANY
In Mixed Company Jenny Shank reveals moments of grace and connection between people of her hometown, Denver, through stories that contrast the city during its oil-bust era of economic troubles and court-ordered crosstown busing for racial desegregation with the burgeoning and gentrifying city of recent years.
In "Hurts," a girls' basketball team at a majority Black Denver high school clashes with a white mountain team. In "Casa del Rey," a cautious pregnant woman must contend with her out-of-control and intrusive neighbor. In "La Sexycana," a bottom-feeding journalist ventures to a dance club to confront the young Latina woman she mentored as a teenager who then cut off all contact with her. "Lightest Lights Against Darkest Darks" follows a white middle schooler bused to a majority Black school who falls under the spell of her magnetic and racially ambiguous art teacher. In "Signing for Linemen," a graduate student in medieval literature takes a job as a summer tutor for a college football team and ends up learning more than she expected about athletes, American Sign Language, and herself. In "Local Honey," middle-aged white parents bring their adopted Black teenage son to a Wu-Tang Clan concert in an attempt to bond with him.
The characters find their initial perceptions and ideas overturned in these stories laced with humor, heart, and grit. Jenny Shank forges fiction out of the sparks that fly when diverse people encounter one another.
"Jenny Shank’s Mixed Company is a masterfully-written short story collection full of insight and stunning humor. You will never forget these gritty, real characters: Davonya running for her life, the mother-in-law who lost her legs by throwing herself in front of a train, “La Sexycana,” and so many more. In this courageous exploration of place, race, and survival, Mixed Company is a book to read and reread in utter delight."
-Erika Krouse, author of Come Up and See Me Sometime and Contenders
Reviews of MIXED COMPANY
"The 12 stories in Jenny Shank's affecting new collection, "Mixed Company," live up to the book's title: Shank's characters navigate the fraught encounters that arise when people of different racial and economic backgrounds are forced together, often against their will, by circumstances they can't control. Nearly all of these stories play out in the context of the author's hometown of Denver. Together, they trace its recent history from economically troubled melting pot to rapidly gentrifying "it" city…Ultimately, this collection provides a vivid portrait of a changing city, full of diverse people who are trying — often failing but sometimes succeeding — to understand each other." - Mike Alberti, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Connections form the beating heart of Mixed Company. Shank creates moments of grace between seemingly disparate people: the white seventh grader eager to fit in with her new Black classmates across town; a stalled-out journalist searching for validation through a mentorship with a young Latina; a girls basketball team at a majority-Black school in Denver faces off with a white team from a private school; a politically-charged mother engages in a standoff with a college Republican aide at Corey Gardner’s Fort Collins’ office. Over and over, Shank’s main characters are forced to look at themselves harder, to face their foibles, their biases, their deficits. It’s often uncomfortable, as growth always is. Shank stays in her lane by writing from a white perspective, often female, but without the white savior trope that has maliciously dominated mainstream American pop culture for decades… Shank never fumbles. These are stories she knows, pieces of her own life turned sideways, shifted, examined in a new light. She has mentored students of color; she did play sports; she was bused across town." - Caitlin Rockett, Boulder Weekly
"Mixed Company is full of light-hearted humor and colorful characters, yet it also provides insight into the realities of navigating life in diverse communities in Denver and finding human connections across cultural, social and racial differences." - Izzy Fincher, CU Independent
"'L’Homme De Ma Vie' unfolds as a poignant tale about the intimate negotiations of a binational marriage and the unspoken toll taken by intergenerational trauma. But moving underneath these themes is an unlikely Western…This desire for a cowboy (or in this case, cowgirl) hero who will redeem the damaged inheritance of Europe and transform the West is as old as the Western itself. It’s also one of the themes that unites the stories in Shank’s collection. In these tales, white women living in the greater Denver area attempt to reach out across the frontiers of race (and often class) in attempts to build a community that defies Colorado’s reputation as a bastion of white privilege. In almost every story, the protagonists learn a hard lesson about the failures of the institutions — whether they’re public high schools, not-for-profits, or universities — that Americans have relied on to bridge racial divides since the civil rights era…Like so many of Mixed Company’s stories of white intentions gone awry, Charlotte’s tale ['La Sexycana'] climaxes with a cross-cultural showdown that is equal parts devastating and cringe-inducing. I won’t spoil her nightclub confrontation with 'La Sexycana,' but suffice to say it doesn’t end with Charlotte’s triumphant fulfillment of her white savior dreams." — High Country News
"The thing that’s most likely to get my attention…is a story that establishes the characters and the situation as quickly as possible. For example, we published a fantastic story called 'L’Homme De Ma Vie' by Jenny Shank. Here are the first three sentences: 'On my wedding day I realized I didn’t know my mother-in-law’s name. I’d never met her, and Etienne rarely spoke of her. Her name was—is—Veronique.' Nothing flashy, but those sentences tell us a lot. In fewer than thirty words, we learn that the narrator is on the cusp of a major life change (she’s getting married), that her finance is so estranged from his mother that the narrator’s first instinct is to speak about her in the past tense, and that this realization is something that affects the narrator so much that she thinks about it on a day when she must have hundreds of other things on her mind. Those three sentences told me so much that I wanted to keep reading to see what was going to happen with these people.” — Joe Killiany, editor of Barrelhouse, interviewed in Writer's Digest
"By writing firmly from where she is, she still successfully engages with a number of complexities in our diverse and varying world." - Hannah Evans, Denver North Star
"With its themes of connections between diverse characters in changing communities, the collection seems especially timely in these days of division in our country. Shank writes with affection and insight about neighborhoods and the people who live in them, and her words sometimes seem as much poetry as prose." - Judy Christie, Shreveport Times