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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Middlebury Author Takes On Racism, Teen Angst In Graphic Novel

Alex Diotto/Jeremy Holt
Middlebury writer Jeremy Holt, an Asian-American, says he's experienced racism in every city he's lived. "Southern Dog," written by Holt and illustrated by Alex Diotto, tackles teen angst and racism in the Deep South.

Vermont writer Jeremy Holt of Middlebury has written a graphic novel in four issues called Southern Dog, which tackles teen angst, the after-effects of a wolf bite and racism in the Deep South.

Holt recently spoke to VPR about where the story elements for Southern Dog emerged, and what fueled the writing process.

The issues feature illustrations from artist Alex Diotto and Holt says the story sprung from an interesting source.

"This story actually stemmed from a dream I had of a werewolf fighting off a bunch of [Klu Klux] Klansmen," Holt said. "And that imagery was pretty intense, but I didn't know what to do with it so I sat on the idea for a while. And it wasn't until I started to do some research into the Klan — more specifically around Obama's inauguration — that kind of stemmed the idea for the story."

Credit Jeremy Holt/Alex Diotto
"Southern Dog" features illustrations from artist Alex Diotto. Writer Jeremy Holt says the story, as well as the imagery on the pages, sprung from an interesting source: a dream.

Although it's selling well in book stores locally and worldwide, Holt said he thinks his story is a hard sell. "It's a hard sell for the reader. It's a hard sell for a publisher to talk about racism, which is something that I think we all want to believe is kind of going away."

He said that as an Asian American, he feels racism is alive and well, and he's experienced it in every city he's lived.

Holt wanted to explore those issues in graphic novel form through the eyes of his protagonist and, fueled by the imagery of his dream, began to write.

Holt got most of his work done at Middlebury's now-defunct Cursive Coffee. "They didn't have WiFi, which is great for me because I get so distracted by the Internet," he says.

Putting in eight-hour days of writing in the no-WiFi zone of the coffee shop allowed Holt uninterrupted time to develop the story, flesh out characters and built the piece's arcs and emotional beats. Before bringing the story to Diotto for illustrating, Holt had completed four, 22-page issues.

Towards the end of the writing process, Holt noted in his Tumblr blog, "I haven’t loved writing a story more than this one. At this point in the process the characters speak for themselves and I love that. I’m gonna miss hanging out with them."

Holt will be signing copies of Southern Dog at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury on Saturday, March 28.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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