Southeast Missouri State University Press

Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar

Ron A. Austin

Winner of the Nilzen Prize
Publication: October 1, 2019
Pages: 172

Austin’s semi-autobiographical, linked story collection follows the misadventures of Avery Colt as he struggles to survive in North St. Louis alongside his family. Learning the best way to slaughter a goat, rebuilding his family’s corner market, and reckoning the weight of a revolver are a few of the challenges Avery faces. As he matures through each page, Avery takes control of his circumstances and attempts dangerous feats of alchemy. By confronting his own fears and limitations, he seeks to transform cruelty into compassion, rind into fruit, despair into hope. Charged with urgency and emotion, Austin’s prose faithfully renders a community determined to overcome crisis with strength, dark humor, and plenty of heart.


“Avery Colt is a Snake, A Thief, A Liar is at once hilarious and heartbreaking, a coming of age story about the weight of inheriting cumulative losses and the skills necessary to survive them. Ron Austin is a major new voice, and in this book he brings to life an unforgettable community. ” Danielle Evans

“Ron Austin writes sentences so sharp you could cut meat with them, characters so real you swear you’re fighting with them. This book is a special treat. Avery Colt may be a snake, a thief and a liar, but the teller of his stories is a master.” –Rion Amilcar Scott

“I’m crying right now. Because Avery Colt is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar is doing the difficult work of being compassionate from within the guts of the joyful and painful mess we inherit. Avery Colt tells us that “shared pain is a crux of love.” And this book is my cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends. I am thankful to Ron Austin for this blessing, for his graciousness, and for his storytelling that embodies our folks’ traditions and innovations. Amen.” –Steven Dunn

“In Avery Colt is a Snake. A Thief. A Liar, Ron A. Austin writes with wit, with compassion, and with heart about the city of St. Louis. It is a vibrant world full of characters who are connected to one another the way folks in small towns are connected—by an intricate and shared past. Austin’s protagonist, Avery, is seldom alone, and is given advice and direction, wanted or not, by his mother’s former lovers, by elders who knew him before he was born, by a web of family connections. Sometimes what they advise is wrong, cruel, misguided, but every now and then it is worth listening to. However, the world Avery navigates as he grows is frightening, but the community is also loving, and as lively as the writing itself. Austin’s sentences are muscular, his images and metaphors original and striking.  And as Avery Colt survives, matures, turns disdain into a willingness to help, turns history into strength, we readers understand we have been yearning for this transformation, not dramatic but real. For we have willingly thrown our lot in with Avery’s from the first story, have had the good fortune to experience his life, his community, his place in time.” –Mary Troy

“Ron Austin has taken the raw material of his childhood, translated it into exuberant language, and created a vibrant first novel.  That alone is worth standing up and cheering for. What’s even more remarkable is the novel’s sheer storytelling joy. It spins and sings and then stops you in your tracks with its piercing understanding of the human heart.  Avery Colt is a knock-out debut.” –John Dalton

“I’d backslid a little—who am I kidding? I’d backslid a lot—in my belief that fiction could still rouse us, but with his stellar debut, Avery Colt is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar, Ron Austin has set me back on the path. Each inspired page hums with the vitality of lives too little seen by most readers and rollicks with the texture and musicality of Austin’s prose. I don’t know who I admire more: Avery Colt for being funnier than Flavor Flav, twice as ornery as Holden Caulfield, and endearing as Esperanza Cordero, or Ron Austin for having created him. Either way, Avery is a central character built for the ages, and Ron Austin’s someone I’ll turn to again and again to restore my faith in fiction’s power to grab us by the lapels and shake us awake.” –Tom Williams

“Ron Austin’s stories twist like a snake, outwit like a thief and mastermind like a liar. Pulled into one family’s life by language at once restrained and erupting, we learn the cadence and complexity of enduring or failing to endure. We observe and then engage, are outraged and implicated, do right and do dirt, howl with laughter and then—like Avery—sleeve away tears.” –Soma Mei Sheng Frazier

“It has been a pleasure and honor to read Avery Colt Is A Snake, A Thief, A Liar. It brings so much of St. Louis we rarely see in literature, to light. I especially love the juxtaposition of the country and the urban/city in the stories; it feels so true and real. The dialogue is pitch perfect, especially the vernacular. Ron Austin has a gift for lyric prose, with moments of poetry that leap right off the page. Beautiful work!” –John Keene

Ron A. Austin holds an MFA from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has served as an editor for december and River Styx, and is a 2016 Regional Arts Commission Fellow. his stories have been placed or are forthcoming in Pleaides, Story Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Black Warrior Review, Midwestern Gothic, Juked, and other journals. He has taught creative writing at the Pierre Laclede Honors College. He lives in St. Louis with his wife and son.

Trade Paper, $18.00
ISBN: 978-1732039919

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