Exploring the art of prose


Author: Amina Gautier

Author’s Note

Who gets to tell a story? Whenever I talk to students or aspiring writers about point of view, the same question always arises—how do you go about selecting the point of view for any given story? Which is really a way of asking how do you know when you’ve chosen the correct point of view for the story? For example, if you can simply hit the Control + H function and change all the pronouns from “she” to “I” and have the same exact story with nothing gained or lost, it is unlikely that you have hit on your point of view. I know I’ve chosen the right one when the information revealed in that point of view is crucial to the story and accessing the information through that lens is the only way in which the story can be fully advanced and properly understood. To get to this point, I always think about (and encourage others to think about) the ways in which a story could or would change if told by a different or additional viewpoint character. No two people’s memories or experiences will ever be exactly the same—not even if they are identical twins. Members of the same household will often disagree on when and how something happened, siblings may remember their parents differently, et cetera. But what about when two siblings are united by the same desire and yearning? What happens when their voices are close enough to be one voice, when their words could be coming from one mouth? Who then gets to tell the story? Those are some of the questions that prompted me to adopt the first-person-plural point of view in my crafting of “What the Mouth Knows.” The use of the “we” voice captures two siblings just when they are young enough and earnest enough to be of one accord and one mind in their shared desire for family, language, and culture and in their goal to reclaim what they believe is missing. The siblings’ differences in age and gender are revealed gradually as the story progresses, but when the story begins they could easily be mistaken for one another. Their hunger, yearning, and desperation for this missing family member puts their words in each other’s mouths and it is only when they take action that their voices diverge with the older brother suggesting an action and the younger sister picking a target, the older brother initiating the plan and the younger sister being the bait. So when I asked myself who gets to tell the story when a brother and sister are in such accord, the answer was obvious: they both do.


AMINA GAUTIER is the author of three short story collections: At-Risk, Now We Will Be Happy, and The Loss of All Lost Things. More than one hundred forty of her stories have been published, appearing in American Short Fiction, Boston Review, Callaloo, The Cincinnati Review, Glimmer Train, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Latino Book Review, The Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, The Southern Review, and TriQuarterly among other places. She is the recipient of the Blackwell Prize, the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award, the International Latino Book Award, the Letras Boricuas Fellowship, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. Find her on Twitter @DrAminaGautier.