2013 Sophie Kerr Finalists
1) First, would you tell us a little bit about your writing? What do you like to write and where do you draw your inspiration?
2) What was the first book you read and loved?
3) What writer, living or dead, would you like to have a cup of coffee with?
4) What is your favorite word and why?
2) The funny answer: Little Bear, which my mother would read to me every night as a very small child. One night I got it in my mind that I wanted to read it for myself, in spite of being too young to really know what I was doing. So I kept her up for hours pointing at each word individually trying to figure it out until she told me what it was.
Otherwise, the first one I remember is Watership Down, which I read in middle school. I had no idea the lives of rabbits could be so enthralling. I liked Fiver the seer and Hazel the main character the best, but it was the first book in which the villain, General Woundwort, was very interesting as well. I would sit for hours re-reading the book and then imagining other adventures for the characters to get into.
3) I would love to meet Maya Angelou. She has had such a fascinating life, traveling all over the world, being immersed in politics, theater, and all kinds of history, so we’d have a lot to talk about. She has overcome so much, and I think she’s inspiring. I’d love to be able to tell her that.
4) I really like “penultimate.” It has a very specific meaning, so it isn’t used very often, and I that’s part of why I love to do so. I personally find it fun to say, and I can’t really pinpoint why; it rolls off my tongue in a way that, reading it on the page, it doesn’t seem like it would.
1) I draw inspiration from the people around me. I’m always amazed by how many talented and unique individuals surround me, especially in such a quiet area like the Eastern Shore. I think that everyone, no matter how famous or successful, has a story to tell, and all of those stories have messages behind them. I love telling those stories, and journalism and creative nonfiction give me the freedom to do just that.
2) I read “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgoson Burnett dozens of times in elementary school, and it was probably the first book that I didn’t just love, but obsessed over. When I reread it now, I recognize how sappy and melodramatic it is – I just can’t help myself.
3) Margaret Fuller. She was one of the first American feminists and successful female journalists, someone who is woefully underappreciated in the course of history, I think. She was friends with all the transcendentalists and was a pretty eccentric character. I would love to pick her brain.
4) Disremember. I discovered this word in Dr. Knight’s Toni Morrison Class while we studied “Beloved.” It’s a more active form of forgetting, a really useful and poetic term.
1) I enjoy writing in a lot of different forms, but usually in the same voice, one that jumps between the informal and the lyrical. I draw inspiration from other writers like Hemingway, Salinger or Nick Flynn (some of my favorites). I also draw inspiration from events in my own life and other various sources like songs or news reports.
2) The first book I truly read and loved was To Kill A Mockingbird, which I read for a class with a really great teacher who helped us discover what was really going on in the story.
3) I would probably want to have a cup of coffee with Hemingway. He always wrote about cafes, so he would definitely be a good person to hang out with over coffee.
4) My favorite word is probably “the” because it is the most used and it would be really hard to write anything without it.
1) My writing is purely academic; I submitted only critical essays, and while that sounds pretty dry compared to creative writing I do really enjoy writing it. I think of it as just a different kind of creativity: coming up with an interesting, new, and challenging argument to take on a book that has been read and discussed in different ways for tens or even hundreds of years.
2) The first books I can remember really being obsessed with were the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. In fact, when I applied to Washington College I had to write an essay about “my hero,” and I chose to write about Nancy Drew; she’s smart, adventurous, and drives a mustang, what more could a girl want?
3) I think it would be amazing to be able to have a conversation with Victor Hugo. He lived through almost the entire 19th century in France, which was a crazy time, and I think it would be great not only to hear more about his books and poetry, but about what it was like going through all of the changes that the century saw. I would also feel very accomplished if he was able to understand any of my French.
4) Cupcake. I don’t think I really need to explain why…
1) I usually end up writing about people who simply can’t seem to figure out what it is that’s causing them their problems. I try to make it complicated for them, which makes it complicated for me, so that usually, by the end, the resolution, if there is one, looks just as uncomfortable to me as it does to them. It’s not always like this, though. Sometimes it’s way less conscious.
And it’s the same thing when I write poems—let’s complicate a situation and see if anything interesting comes out that sort of strings it all together, thematically or whatever. With poems, I generally start with an image or a phrase that looks good on paper and then have pretend faith that something meaningful is actually sitting there behind it. I’ve found that usually, with enough remodeling, primary images do have something worth pulling from them.
2) I don’t remember the first book I ever read. The first book I recall really internalizing was Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You Go. I had it memorized, completely, from cover to cover. My dad would read it to me before bed. I really only cared about the illustrations and the rhythms of the words, realizing later that it’s a truly great, moral story. The first book to show me that fiction could actually change a person was David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which crushed me just as much as it built me up. He’s the reason for a lot of nervous second-guessing among today’s crop of young writers. Which I think is good. Keeps one honest.
3) I get the sense that Cormac McCarthy is pleasant. Why not.
4) Twerk. It’s slang for working one’s body, namely the rear, during any loose or unstructured dance number. The physicality of the act gets conveyed in the word, I think, rather nicely.