Carolyn Walker’s creative nonfiction has appeared in literary journals such as The Southern Review,Crazyhorse, Hunger Mountain, The Writer’s Chronicle, and Columbia: A Journal of Letters and Arts. Her essay “Christian Becomes a Blur” was nominated by the editors of Crazyhorse for a Pushcart Prize. She is also a contributing author to the anthology Gravity Pulls You In: Perspectives on Parenting a Child on the Autism Spectrum. She is a writing instructor for The Writer’s Digest and Springfed Arts.
You’ve stated that “my work in personal essay and memoir evolved out of a newspaper column that I wrote many years ago.” Share with us how your work has grown and changed over time.
I hired in as a reporter at a local weekly newspaper with the hopes of writing a column; however, I hadn’t been at the paper long enough. One night, I covered a township board of trustees meeting and there was a man speaking adamantly against group homes. I was incensed, as I have a mentally handicapped child. I was there as a reporter, so I couldn’t say anything. My editor allowed me to write an editorial piece about the meeting and it received a huge amount of feedback, which was really wonderful and unexpected. After that piece, she decided that I might be able to write a column. So, I did.
I didn’t always write about my daughter, but I often did. In 2002, I decided to get my MFA in writing. In school, I had to grow my work from a 16-inch column to a 20-page essay. It took me the whole first semester to learn how to do that because I was used to writing to the column size. My personal essay seemed to come naturally out of those experiences.
You’ve acted as an editor for two literary journals, how does your experience editing affect your writing process?
I was a first-reader editor for Hunger Mountain and then I was the guest editor atCrazyhorse. At Crazyhorse I read through 300 essays and short stories to pick out five pieces that could be published. What I learned, and why it was such a valuable lesson, is that all of the pieces were worth publishing, and that editing can be a subjective experience.
Now my feelings aren’t hurt when my work is rejected. Human instinct is to take rejection personally, but you have to get past that particular hurdle, and editing really helped me with that.
When composing a collection of short stories or a collection of essays and memoirs, how do you decide what work to include? Talk about that editing process.
What to include and what to leave out is every writer’s nightmare. I wrote a memoir about my daughter, and a lot of people asked, “What about the father? What about the sister?” However, the story didn’t want to be about the family, it wanted to be about her. The others ended up as characters in the stories, but ultimately all of the stories were about my daughter.
The best way to compose a collection is to find threads that link the stories together. If the pieces don’t push the story forward, then you just have to leave them out. It’s a very difficult process.
For Carolyn’s work samples visit her Kresge Artist profile
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