After Genevieve Hudson moved to Oregon from South Carolina in 2010, they looked up to and soon fell in with local writers like Chelsea Bieker and Vanessa Veselka. This April, Hudson was nominated alongside them as finalists for the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction at the Oregon Book Awards. “[Bieker and Veselka] were helping shape the literary landscape,” Hudson says. “To see myself be able to be among them feels profoundly special and unlike anything I’d ever imagine.”
Hudson, 34, was nominated for Boys of Alabama, their acclaimed debut novel released in May 2020, when the world was en plein pandemic. Its protagonist—a German boy named Max whose family moves to Alabama—falls in love, questions his faith, and navigates Southern masculinity, all while hiding an ability to bring animals and plants back from the dead. It’s Hudson’s third book, following a quasi-memoir called A Little in Love with Everyone and the short story collection Pretend We Live Here.
The South, says Hudson, “feels like the landscape culturally and emotionally that shaped me to be who I am.” Although there were challenging aspects, Hudson harbors tender feelings for the region and its influence on their sense of self. “I was such a ‘tomboy’ growing up—that was the word that was used then—and I had a lot of friends who were boys, and I was very captivated by boy culture and masculinity, and that look into masculinity was something I felt I needed to explore,” Hudson explains.
Boys of Alabama creates a space for Hudson to do just that. “The boys and their fathers wore clothes a size too big,” one passage reads. “They seemed to dress intentionally unstylishly, as if to announce their masculinity, but somehow, maybe without meaning to, they’d invented a new style.” It also uses Max’s magic as a metaphor for his queerness, in a conscious attempt to subvert tropes that often color magic-wielding villains in queer shades. “It’s a really tender, beautiful part of him that’s very special and holds a lot of power, but he’s really afraid of what will happen if he reveals this, and what does it mean for him to integrate this into his life, so he must keep it separate,” Hudson says.
The book has been lauded by critics, with Kirkus calling it a “magical, deeply felt novel” and Oprah Magazine including it on its list of the best LGBTQ books of 2020 beside titles like Brandon Taylor’s Real Life.
A pandemic release, however, meant Hudson had to put their in-person book tour on hold; the upside was that brick-and-mortar bookstores began to virtually host writers from all over the country, giving authors access to even more readers in places they might not have reached physically. Writing being a solitary practice, Hudson says there’s something particularly special about connecting to strangers who have picked up their book—especially strangers who, like them, have sought representation on the page.
“[Reading] was so impactful to help me feel less alone as a young person in the community I was growing up in,” Hudson says. “To think my book could touch a few people in that way or impact people is exactly what I would want to write for.”