2022 Individual Artist Fellowships written over 5 separate images artistically arranged in vertical bars featuring artwork from or a portrait of a 2022 artist fellow

William Torrey

MiddletownPhoto of William Torrey

Literature: Fiction

By: Gail Obenreder

Even the smallest of moments, even the quickest interactions, are loaded with meaning and mystery and truth.”

For as long as he can remember, William Torrey has loved telling stories. Throughout high school, he kept an online journal “read by dozens of my peers.” Though he had originally thought he would become a lawyer (like his father), the accolades from those early readers gave him the incentive and confidence to “ask the question: Am I supposed to be a writer?”

Torrey was born and raised in San Antonio, but he left Texas to study literature and creative writing at Louisiana State University. There, under the mentorship of poet and writer Randolph Thomas, he was galvanized by the short fiction he read in class, “beautiful and haunting stories” telling of everyday life. Overwhelmed by “how real each of them felt,” Torrey answered his own youthful question. He decided that he wanted to spend “as much of my life as I could learning how to craft a story that could impact readers the same way those stories impacted me.”

After college, Torrey earned an MFA in Fiction Writing at Georgia College (Milledgeville), teaching there and working to perfect all the elements of his writing craft. He focused particularly on structure, following a professor’s adage that “a good story snaps up tighter than a Samsonite suitcase – everything’s locked up in the right place.”

His lifelong work to refine the pacing and shape of a tale has led to success: He has had 20 works of short fiction and articles published in prominent American journals. Publication is deeply affirming to a writer, but Torrey is also powerfully affected when a reader “takes it upon themselves to find my email and [tell me] why a specific piece of mine has meant something to them.”

“A Crawfish Boil at the End of the World” | Fiction

When we are wrung dry and cannot stand the thought of ourselves for even one more day, we call up a meeting of the Shame Society. There are four of us in all: Ernie the attorney, Mickey the chef, Hal the scientist, and me, Wally, the adjunct professor. Really my title is adjunct instructor, but my wife says the latter sounds weak. “Call yourself by the title you want!” She’s on a kick with a self- help podcast. Seed to Blossom, or something like that. Either way, the school where I teach might soon shut its doors, run dead to the ground by Baton Rouge fat cats. Either way, the wife and I don’t eat much steak. I eagerly await some kind of solution, but nobody’s tossing out lifelines.

Read Torrey’s short story “Disgrace” published in Salamander

Torrey has taught creative writing and literature at universities in Texas (Stephen F. Austin State University) and Louisiana (LSU and University of New Orleans). But in 2015 he moved to Delaware, where he is Writer in Residence at St. Andrew’s School (Middletown) and serves on the English and creative writing faculty there. The summer academic hiatus is this writer’s most productive creative time; during the school year, balancing a full-time job with the needs of his family (he and wife Liz have small children) challenges Torrey “to sustain a rhythm of productivity.” He finds that writing sporadically is “better than not at all, of course, but I wish to better integrate my role as an artist into my everyday life.”

That everyday life includes reading other writers who inspire him (like Tom Drury, Ben Lerner, Ocean Vuong), a love of cooking, spending time with Liz, and going on long walks through the area’s miles of beautiful trails. Though the pandemic has “certainly made life more hectic,” Torrey is grateful that his family has remained healthy and that “St. Andrew’s has worked so hard to remain open and in-person.”

And throughout COVID, he has continued to write. Torrey is working on a short story collection, and – inspired by his earlier times studying and teaching in Louisiana – he has begun a novel about a family that struggles in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He plans to use the Division’s Fellowship award to take trips to New Orleans for research and interviews as he continues to refine his craft.

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