5 Questions for Hub City's Next Writer-in-Residence
What excites you most about Spartanburg and the Writers House program?
The word “balance” comes to mind first. The process of earning a PhD evokes a treasure of new ideas and reflections, but it doesn’t necessarily offer a broad spectrum of experiences. Your studies are isolating, and your focus can exclude a lot of what you need to do to keep up your creative mojo; the simple pleasure of going to concerts, for instance, or reading the latest bestseller (as opposed to a scholarly article on nineteenth century European diaspora), or just allowing your enthusiasm to wander into other pursuits, like kayak lessons or tango classes. Most writers take a residency looking for separation, that uninterrupted time and space. That won’t typically be me. I look at the Writers House as a chance to hit the refresh button, to step away from cloistered scholarship and regain creative balance through personal contact and communal activity.
We’re a very place-centered organization. We’re a very place-centered organization. You’ve spent much of your life abroad and have plans to continue work on your travelogue while here. Can you speak to how the idea of place intersects with your writing?
Most of my work tries to make sense of people going places. What skills of survival and interaction are universal in all our comings and goings? What empowerments and impetuses? Virtually everywhere you look, the act of human movement and encounter is complex. At the same time it is terrifically provocative. Transit provides the chance to cut across class, race, gender and history, to meet a brand new set of conditions for human connection. In my writing, “place” is best defined as the launching point for self-examination. It’s the notion I use to confront my privilege as an American, my sensibility as a male, a white, and most of all a westerner.
Every Writer-in-Residence has to give back to our community while in Spartanburg. Can you speak a little to your plans for community service while in town?
I favor just about anything that adds a literary component to the surrounding ecosystem, that helps to enhance awareness of natural process, or cultivates environmental sensitivity by getting people to recognize land as living architecture—as art. One thing I’ve done in the past is organize nature outings for groups of young learners, with environmentally-themed writing exercises that take place in local greenspaces. Parks, preserves, wooded trails—these are wonderful locations to observe the interconnectedness of things, to turn the eyes outward from the internal condition and focus on the natural forces that shape and direct that internal condition.
We’ve heard a rumor that you were also an accomplished surfer at one time. What influenced the switch to writing?
There was never any conscious switch, really. At some point you try other things, discover other talents, and former talents become secondary. I think a lot of surfers find themselves intuitively drawn to creative writing. Both are expressive, experimental activities. Both require similar skills: patience, boldness, audacity. And both induce similar sensations. There you are in the swells; this galloping wave lifts you up, thrusts you ahead, and it’s the same propulsion you feel when you set yourself to a poem or a story, that surge of thought and emotion that carries your most private self into the public forever. For me, writing was a way to capture the questions and feelings that surfaced when I was in the water. Much of what we come to feel about life reveals itself while we’re adrift, and drifting is mostly what you do when you surf.
Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun? Where might we see you on a Saturday afternoon this summer?
I’m pretty quick to stray from the perfectly known. So if you’re really looking (and I sincerely hope it won’t be part of a search and rescue), I suspect you’ll find me exploring the surrounding Spartanburg conservancy, getting familiar with South Carolina beyond municipal life. Around town you’ll find me scrounging for pick-up basketball games at the Y, trying to hitch up with a rec league team. You will most definitely catch me at any festival, sitting in a shady patch listening to live music, and at the farmer’s market, lugging fat sacks of produce. I should also note that I’m a compulsive host. I love having people over, getting them fed, getting them talking, watching the conversation eat the hours away. Fun for me can be as simple as good company and a spacious porch.