5 Questions for Hub City's Next Writer-in-Residence
What excites you most about Spartanburg and the Writers House program?
Having spent the two years since completing my MFA working 40+ hours a week, the idea of waking up and facing a day free of other obligations makes me swoon. The time offered by this residency feels like the greatest gift.
I’m also excited to explore—I’ve spent most of my life in Midwestern cities. I’m excited to meet people. I’m excited for accents and local history and all the southern food my vegetarian diet will allow.
We’re a very place-centered organization. As a multi-cultural writer, you have called several continents home. Can you speak to how your travels have influenced your work on the page?
My hometown, Flint, Michigan, has been the driving force of my writing. I was born in the midst of the General Motors closures, and through my childhood and early adulthood I watched Flint change dramatically—the factories were razed, a sharp decline of money and population altered neighborhoods. At the same time, I was especially close to my grandfather, who’d spent his life working on the line at GM and Ford and had a kind of nostalgic pride for Flint. That duality has stayed with me: I’m always grappling with the the struggling but resilient city I know and the city of his stories, pumped full of “Generous Motors” money and teeming with people. I remember as a bookwormy teenager reading Mrs. Dalloway for the first time, and being fascinated with how Woolf moved her characters around the streets of London. I wanted to do that, too, but I wasn’t sure gritty, beleaguered Flint could accommodate my precocious literary ambitions. There was an arts and politics magazine in Flint at the time —The Uncommon Sense—and they published a gorgeous poem by Jan Worth-Nelson called “At the Window, October Night, Flint, Michigan.” It was a ringing affirmation—Flint was gritty and beleaguered, yes, but beautiful. I later had the luck of taking Jan’s classes at University of Michigan-Flint and she encouraged me to write about Flint. I’ve been writing about it obsessively ever since.
Tell us about the project you will work on while in Spartanburg.
I’m in the revision stage of a novel-in-stories that follows two Flint families from the 1937 Sit-Down Strike to the ongoing water crisis. This last year I’ve been steeped in research. Beyond the familiar narrative, Flint’s a fascinating place: Flint’s role in the WWII “Arsenal of Democracy,” its complicated civil rights history, including the election of the first black mayor of a major American city. As a much more prosperous city, Flint had a surprising relationship with pop culture: Keith Moon drove a Cadillac into a swimming pool at Flint’s Holiday Inn. There’s a theory that Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson first hatched the idea of founding Motown on a drive to Flint. And of course there’s the endless controversy of Michael Moore and an ill-fated Six Flags theme park, AutoWorld, with such mascots as Fred the Carriageless Horse and Bumper T. Fenderbender. But now I’m revising and fact-checking and looking for moments in Flint’s story I don’t want to miss. When I get to the final stage of a draft where I’m focused on diction and the shape of sentences, I like to read the work aloud. I suspect I’ll be spending many hours in the Writers House talking to myself.
You have a pretty extensive background in community outreach. Can you speak a little to your plans for community service while in town?
I started teaching creative writing to children at a homeless shelter in Flint eight years ago. My first class was the week of Barack Obama’s inauguration so we read some poems he’d written as an undergrad that the New York Times dug up. I ended up teaching at Shelter of Flint for two and a half years and have since taught underserved children in Indiana and Missouri. I’m excited to continue that work in Spartanburg. My family went through financial hardship when I was a kid, but my mom always encouraged my sister and I to write and draw, always took us to the library. With children, you have this opportunity to try and strip away the negative associations of writing—bad grades, failed spelling tests, whatever—and encourage them to see it as creative play that you can access anywhere.
Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun? Where might we see you on a Saturday afternoon this fall?
Contorting my body in yoga poses or going for a jog with my earbuds in (I’m really into Leon Bridges and Solange at the moment). Eating something involving tofu and washing it down with ginger beer. Bringing my lovebird, Daassa, out onto the porch and calling my mom back home in Flint while Daassa communes with the birds of Spartanburg.