This post allows me to marry the two parts of my writing and creative life — quilting and creative writing. That makes me happy.
Thanks to Padma Venkatraman for inviting me to take part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour! I recently read Padma’s newest book, A Time to Dance, which tells the story — in a series of lyrical poems — of a young girl who loses her leg and must learn to dance again. In the process, she gains a deep sense of spirituality and self-acceptance, as well as a new friend who inspires her during her recovery. The book has earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, VOYA, and SLJ, and IndieNext wrote: “This beautiful book, written in verse, follows the life of a young girl who loves to dance. The struggles caused by her traditional Indian family’s disapproval of her passion are compounded when disaster strikes and she loses a leg in a car accident. For anyone looking to be uplifted and inspired, this stunningly lyrical novel comes highly recommended!” —Danica Ram, Townie Books, Crested Butte, CO
Padma’s previous books have won the Paterson Prize, Booklist’s Editor’s Choice Award, the SANOC South Asia Book Award, and many other honors.
So, as part of the blog tour, I’m going to answer these four questions, and then pass it on to three FABULOUS writers whom I’m so honored to know.
1) What are you working on now?
After writing Quilting with a Modern Slant, and spending months interviewing other quilters and writing about their work and processes (which was inspiring, and a lot of fun), I finally turned back to the novel that I’ve been working on for….awhile now. I began the novel, written in shorts, while in grad school in Montana. Then, I came back east and had access again to the places where the novel is set — in Massachusetts, in an orchard town. The novel tells the story of three sisters who come back to this small town after an accident, and how their friends and families are affected by the accident and its aftermath.
I just finished a story collection and a collection of short short stories with sewn images, which make a sort of interwoven legend. I’m now also researching this amazing historic quilt that’s in the textile collection at URI, where I’m getting my PhD. That project requires a lot of research and delving into the archives of the local historical societies; hopefully, it will take me to Charleston, SC, this year, to keep researching the family who made the quilt. I never felt connected to historic events before this research. Now, with access to family letters, pictures, and stories of events in the family across two hundred years, I can see World War II, the Civil War, and the history of slavery and emancipation, in really different ways.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I’ve always been intrigued by work that crosses genres, especially those that combine pictures and words. I’ve found ways to marry my sewing and my writing, and those projects fuel me in different ways than my novel, which is a nonlinear but more “traditional” narrative, the story of a family across several years, layered with the past — their childhoods, the last few years — and with an arc that runs through the present. I’m also always writing and thinking about quilts in terms of material culture and media studies.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I love research. Of the historic quilts. Of life on an orchard. Of other peoples’ lives — interviewing them, hearing their stories. I can escape into stories when I need to — a habit from childhood. I can write it all out of me when I need to. Writing is survival and learning and living. Isn’t that why we all write and create, to stay alive (with props to Joan Didion, of course…)?
4) How does your writing process work?
I usually hop from project to project, with several going at once, so that I’m never “stuck.” One thing isn’t working today? Hop to the other. I’m also always working on scholarly essays and conference presentations, trying to balance that part of life with the creative writing and sewing parts. But, now that I’m in the final stages of novel revision, it’s all I think about. The whole story, all their lives across all their years, is in my mind. I’m in the orchard town. I’m with all those characters. I’m thinking about where each piece of the story goes and how it’s built. What do I need to trim, where do I need to fill in a gap? I’m immersed, and don’t want to work on anything else until it’s all done. I take notes on it during the day, I write when I get up, or at night. I’m teaching an online class right now, so I respond to my students, and then head for the novel again. I go to yoga, eat some kefir (new favorite food — kind of gross but amazingly beneficial!), and go back to writing.
Okay, now onto the fun part: Three writers whose work I love!
First up, Nicole Walker, who blogs here: http://nikwalk.blogspot.com/
Her most recent book, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, won Zone 3′s creative nonfiction prize (June 2013). It’s a book that I read in a weekend, and adore, for its play with ways of telling of a story, masterful interweaving of different narrative threads, and discussion of climate change and the environment, as well as family and life in Utah. Walker is also the author of a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street Books 2010), and co-editor of Bending Genre: Essays on Nonfiction (Bloomsbury 2013), which everyone who writes cnf should run out and read right. now.
A graduate of the University of Utah’s doctoral program, she is currently Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at Northern Arizona University, nonfiction editor of Diagram and editor of the artist/writer collaborative project “7 Rings” on the Huffington Post.
She taught a fabulous course in creative nonfiction at the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference this summer, so I had the chance to study with one of my writing heroes.
Along with hundreds of others, I was deeply struck by her essay in Guernica this spring, “It Will Look Like a Sunset,” in which she writes about leaving an abusive husband. It’s a rare piece of writing that both inspires and empowers. The essay has solicited hundreds of comments and responses online (including high praise from Cheryl Strayed), and Sundberg did a follow-up interview with Guernica after the essay’s publication.
Her work has also been published or is forthcoming in PANK, Quarterly West, The Los Angeles Review, Mid-American Review, and others. She holds an MFA from West Virginia University and is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing: Nonfiction at Ohio University. I’m so happy to know her writing, and to get to link to her work here.
And last but not least, the great Susana Gardner, who blogs here: Micawberesque
She’s the author of three books of poetry, Caddish (Black Radish Books 2013), HERSO (Black Radish Books 2011), and [lapsed insel weary] (The Tangent Press 2008) and runs Dusie Press. She’s recently repatriated from Switzerland, and has rejoined her Rhode Island family in South County.
She’s published several chapbooks, including Hyper-Phantasie Constructs (Dusie Kollektiv, 2010) and Herso (University of Theory and Memorabilia Press, 2009). Her poetry has appeared in many online and print publications including Jacket,How2, Puerto Del Sol, and Cambridge Literary Review among others. Her work has also been featured in several anthologies, including 131.839 slög með bilum (131,839 keystrokes with spaces) (Ntamo, Finland, 2007) and NOT FOR MOTHERS ONLY: CONTEMPORARY POEMS ON CHILD-GETTING AND CHILD-REARING (Fence Books, United States, 2007).
You’ll get to read about these three next week on their blogs! Enjoy!