I come by my love of words honestly. I grew up the child of a bibliophile who read late into the night and had cards to every library system within a one hour radius of our house (she still does) and a college professor of photography. I am also an amateur photographer; the photos used on the cover of my husband’s first book and website here are mine. I am lucky to spend my days writing, reading, or sharing my love of words with college students and colleagues who feel the same.
I was born in St. John’s Hospital in Queens, New York and though we moved upstate to the suburbs when I was two, we returned so often to the German and Irish family homesteads in Ridgewood and Glendale, Queens that these neighborhoods continue to have a profound hold on my imagination. Trailing my grandmother on her errands to Bohacks’ grocers, Jay Rose ladies’ boutique and the five and dime, strolling with my grandfather to Merkens for a chocolate egg cream, all against the perpetual roar and rumble of the “El” were dominant memories of my childhood. So were the mysterious conversations at the coffee clatches my aunts attended as young wives, where majestic Peg Perego prams lined the sidewalk out front and inside the clatter of everyday china and the whispered gossip and the laughter of babies being passed back and forth made their own music. No matter where I have traveled or lived, most recently, for over two decades, in the South, it is this place and that has resonated most deeply for me and that calls me to write about it, over and over in my fiction. My two most recent novels, The Lost Son, and Beautiful, Terrible Things, are represented by Anne Bohner at Pen and Ink Literary.
Books I read as I child, such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, that also featured this city world still influence my writing, to be later followed by the work Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekov, Robert Penn Warren, John Cheever, William Maxwell later Susan Shreve, Alice McDermott, Anne Lamott, Charles Baxter, Nicole Krauss, Richard Bausch, Elizabeth Gilbert, Adam Gopnik . . .the list goes on. A few of these writers attend to rural life, which has its own fascinations, but most do not.
I also write creative nonfiction. I write a column for the Huffington Post called The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life for all of us writing geeks—people who love writing– trying to fit writing in around the margins of busy lives and to stay inspired. Bloomsbury will publish The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: An Instructional Memoir for Prose Writers this December. You can pre-order it now here and get it just in time for the holidays. I’ve also published a number of essays about family life and about being a woman, writer, teacher and mother in the twenty first century.
I also have another life, as an academic writer, determined to revolutionize, improve, and demystify the teaching of creative writing in higher education today, a topic I am utterly passionate about, a passion that has translated into three books, with several more to come, and dozens of essays and articles. I’m particularly proud of the most recent of these, also from Bloomsbury, Can Creative Writing Really Be Taught? which came out in July. The tenth anniversary of the ground-breaking collection published in 2007, this new volume is doubled in size, with most of the original essays updated and expanded and several essays on the cutting edge in the field. If you are at all interested in the teaching of creative writing in higher education, you do not want to miss this!
I have a lot of experience in this creative writing in higher education: after graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, I got an MFA in fiction writing from George Mason University in the early 1990’s and then a Ph.D. with a creative dissertation from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Today, I direct the Arkansas Writer’s MFA Workshop at the University of Central Arkansas, where we’re trying to apply the best practices for teaching creative writing in higher education.
I share my life with my partner, the writer John Vanderslice, two sons and an assortment of pets in a century old American Foursquare in Conway, Arkansas. My two dogs, Mario and Asuna often keep me company when I write. My family and my passions consume most of my life but when they aren’t, you can find me snapping a photo or searching out a flea market or antiques shop, for in addition to words, I guess I am also, as my novels and my home and my hobbies suggest, I am also a lover of old things and beautiful things, which are often, to me, one and the same.