Sophie Kerr Interview - Sandra Hiortdahl
What was it like to win the Sophie Kerr Award?
Winning the Sophie Kerr Award was an amazing experience, unlikely to be rivaled in my life due to the very personal nature of my attachment to Washington College—to my peers as well as to my professors. I’d been raised to be wary of such good fortune and so, in some ways, I had trouble processing “the win.” I’d always known I wanted to be a writer: Sophie Kerr’s bequest gave me the time and the nest egg (and the confidence) to continue no matter what. I’ll always be grateful.
What did you do after graduation?
I’d rather tell you what I wanted to do. I love the ocean, so my plan was to buy a condo in Ocean City and rent it out for most of the summer, which would have given me the income to pay the yearly mortgage and more. For the rest of my life, then, I’d have the ocean anytime I needed it—and at the time (1985), one could get such a place for about $40k. Unfortunately, I was young enough to be talked out of that plan by well-meaning advisors who told me it’d be a waste of money—but to this day, I take imaginary visits to that “Kerr Condo.” And it was a good lesson learned.
What are you doing these days?
These days I’m publishing poems and stories, working to finish a novel by January, when I’ll be going down to the Key West Literary Seminar and shopping it to editors and agents. By day, I teach English at Northeast State Community College in east Tennessee (and dream of the ocean).
Who is your favorite author and why?
Like many people, I consider Shakespeare to be the unrivaled master writer, but I assume your question is more personal. My hero is the late John Gardner, whose characters and stories thrill me, a writer whose language is completely engaging. I’m also a fan of Faulkner and Joyce. As for “still living” writers, I love E. Annie Proulx and Billy Collins.
What was the first book you read and loved?
When I was six or seven, I loved The Phantom Tollbooth for its playful puns (my first dip into postmodernism, perhaps), but I also loved The Swiss Family Robinson and I still dream of the boys riding tortoises through the woods.
What is your favorite word?
These days, my favorite word is “Congratulations!” Seriously, though, as words themselves go I’m pretty attached to the Anglo Saxon phrase “swa swa” which literally translates as “same same”: “On earth swa swa as in heaven” or, if someone gives a compliment, “swa swa” means “same to you.”