“A mother is someone to be reckoned with.” Novelist Gin Phillips evokes this claim when she talks about her latest work, “Fierce Kingdom,” a vivid, poignant story of a mother and son trapped in a zoo at closing time with shooters on the loose.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Phillips is an award-winning author of five novels. From the Los Angeles Times to USA Today, her work has been described as tenderhearted, evocative and bold. But her success didn’t come overnight. “Almost no one on the planet is ready to publish a book at 22,” she said. “I thought I was a much better writer at 22 than I was at 32. And that’s because you get a little more perspective and a little more humility as you get older.” For Phillips, her early years as a writer meant she took a variety of writing jobs by day, then carved out time at night and honed her craft. “I wanted to find something that left me with some time on the side to work at what I really loved.” She wrote for magazines in New York and Washington, D.C. until she ultimately returned to Alabama, family and friends. “It was very hard to make close friendships in those places. I found out I was missing the very things I thought I wanted to move away from,” she said.
Phillips’ southern background influenced her writing but didn’t define it. “As a southerner, you’re in a unique position. There’s a sense you are a southern writer. I have mixed feelings about that.” But she also acknowledged the undeniable power of her roots. “My background influences everything that I write. We come from a very rich literary tradition in the South. We grow up with a very rich sense of story in the South. The fact that I grew up listening to stories, having grandparents tell me their own stories, certainly set me on a path to want to tell stories for a living,” said Phillips.
When Phillips brought her own story and that of “Fierce Kingdom” to Spring Hill College, she looked forward to the conversation with students, faculty and staff about her work. “It’s good to have people who are very used to dissecting different works in class try to turn that scalpel onto my work. It could lead to something unexpected.”