Confronting Addiction With Words

By Lauren Souder
Elm Staff Writer

For a while, Dr. James Allen Hall, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and associate professor of English, wanted to know what drove his brother’s addiction, and  said he had become “addicted to [his] brother’s story.” Eventually, Dr. Hall realized that he had to let go and let his brother find his own way to recovery.

On Monday, Oct. 9, Dr. Hall shared this by reading from his new essay collection, “I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well,” as part of the Sophie Kerr Lecture series. He was introduced by Chair of the English Department Kathryn Moncrief.

The collection is comprised of lyric essays, a type of personal essay that combines elements of poetry and prose. The essays detail important events in Dr. Hall’s life. The reading, called “In Lieu of Drugs,” was about Dr. Hall’s relationship with his younger brother, Dustin, and their journey through his brother’s addiction to crystal meth.

Dr. James Allen Hall
Dr. James Allen Hall

The essay started when Dustin admitted his addiction in 2010.  Dr. Hall then traveled through Dustin’s early experiences in recovery, through his multiple relapses, and through Dustin’s eventual recovery.

After the reading, Dr. Hall accepted questions.  The questions ranged from inquiries about how his brother is doing, to why Dr. Hall chose to publish lyric essays when he is so well known for his poetry.

Dustin has been sober for five years now and will be getting married to someone he met in recovery. As to why he utilizes lyric essays, Dr. Hall said he liked the freedom with structure of poetry, but that essays “give you more room to move around.”

Dr. Hall said that he chose the poem about his brother because he had never read this particular essay aloud before, and he thought it would connect with people because of the ongoing opioid crisis in America. Dr. Hall stressed that there are multiple options for anyone who feels like they need help with addiction and that no one is alone in their experience.

Dr. Hall’s first book “Now You’re the Enemy” has received accolades from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Texas Institute of Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

His writing has appeared in A Public Space, Agni, Story Quarterly, Bellingham Review, CutBank, and Alaska Quarterly Review.

Dr. Hall’s book is available for purchase on Amazon at and from other book sellers.

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