Many Hudson County residents don’t even have to leave their houses to catch a glimpse of the amazing New York Skyline, and some may take for granted the rich culture that they have. Kathy Coudle King, who grew up in West New York, had to move to North Dakota before she realized how much culture the area offers.
“I always wanted to live someplace distinct like the South,” said King. “But after I moved away, I realized how much culture we had in West New York. It is a culture that many people are not familiar with.”
King, who now teaches Freshman Composition, Creative Writing and Women’s Studies at the University of North Dakota, recently published Wannabe, a book that follows a young girl growing up in West New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The book was published by the Creative Arts Book Company in Berkeley, Calif.
“[In this book] you can see the evolution of a young girl as she grows up,” said King, who shares many of the character’s first experiences with the reader.
The main character, Kimmie, is an American girl growing up alongside the Cuban culture that was dominant in the area at that time.
The story takes us shopping on Bergenline Avenue, cheerleading at Memorial High School and sharing a first kiss on the park bench behind the Veteran’s Memorial on Boulevard East, referred to in the book as the “kissing monument.”
King began this book as a series of short stories written separately from the others. The first short story was “The Bra Story,” which was later renamed “Developments” for the book. This chapter tells the story of a young girl buying her first training bra in Woolworth’s on Bergenline Avenue.
Every story is set in West New York, which holds a very instrumental role in King’s book.
“Certainly West New York is a part of why she is such a wannabe,” said King. “West New York further impacts the idea of ‘See that skyline. I want to be there.'”
However, King did not think to put these stories together as one book until a major flood in North Dakota ruined her other manuscripts. The only writing that was saved was the disk that contained her short stories.
King began writing these stories as a graduate student at the University of North Dakota. From time to time, King would participate in readings. After reading “The Bra Story” one time, people who heard it came up to her and shared their first experience as well. Even some men approached her after the reading to share their daughters’ first experience buying a bra.
“These are some interesting, almost universal stories,” said King about how she felt after the reading. “I thought ‘what other first experiences can I write about?'”
The next short story she wrote was the “Kotex Queen,” which is also in Wannabe.
“They are universal first experiences,” said King. “Women, particularly, everywhere can relate to them.” King said that she got ideas for her stories from the stories that other people told her.
“Kimmie is probably very close to myself,” said King about her lead character. “But the stories that are in the book didn’t happen to me.” King added that the characters in the book are compilations of people she knew growing up.
King said that at least half of the stories in the book were shared at readings.
“That is the only way to really gauge your reaction on people,” said King, who used these reactions to find out what did and didn’t work in her stories.
King has written at least a dozen plays while studying at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University as an undergraduate student. King is now working on another book and a couple of screenplays and focuses on writing about women.
“Women’s lives aren’t being told,” said King. “Or at least not often enough.” The “Kotex Queen” story from Wannabe is a finalist in the Moon Dance Festival in Boulder, Colorado, which has added a category to include short stories. The festival was seeking stories that could be converted to film. The winners will be announced at the festival on Jan. 20.