Sunday, October 23, 2011

Questions the New York Times Magazine might ask me...

I've been thinking a lot about memoir, my short stories and how earning my PhD helped. And now, I'm really ready for the New York Times Magazine to interview me! So here are a few questions I'm guessing they might ask.

Questions for Marlene Samuels
What do you make of the current obsession Americans have with memoirs that reveal incredible intimate details? I don't think this is some obsession unique to Americans. Keep in mind some really nasty memoirs have been published in France, the UK, Canada and Australia, just to name a few. If we delve a bit, we'd probably find explicit memoirs in almost every country except - of course, those in which they're banned and the authors have been stoned to death.
The motivation to write memoir really is surprisingly complex, but I think making decisions not only about what to include but especially what to exclude is vastly more difficult. Never mind - I'll take that back, it's mindboggling! We have a responsibility to ask what purpose is served when we tell our life stories. Once we answer that, the next question is whom do we serve by telling it?
The memoir writing process is, in many ways, a personal search for meaning in which the writer tries to share experiences and insights with the reader. It's almost as though the writer is engaging in a "conversation" with potential readers and by sharing a life story helps others as well as the writer. Of course, there's also a less principled side to memoirs - those that are predominantly narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. I suppose that's ok, too. Let's face it - almost everyone has a voyeuristic side. Then, in addition to good old fashioned voyeurism, we also enjoy a bit of "schadenfreud!"
Do you think memoir has evolved over the last century? It seems memoir fans can't even recall any that were popular during the last few years much less the past decade. Yes, I do think memoir has evolved. It's become a genre that's taken much more seriously than ever before. For a long time, the genre was regarded with disdain or cynicism, almost grouped with high school girl diaries or romantic "bodice rippers".

Thursday, October 13, 2011

About the Writer to Writer collaboration:

Much like the fable about six blind men surrounding an elephant – each in a different location and hence, a different interpretation and perspective of what it was they had encountered, so it was with all of us at Ghost Ranch. For some, our experience was a tree, whose base was comprised of rough crevices; for others, it was a swinging vine or a giant moss covered mountain.  But even with all of us in the same place, we were moved in very different, yet incredibly meaningful, ways. 
Four of us who met determined to maintain the inspiration absorbed at Ghost Ranch. It was there that we conceived of a collaborative project – to interview each woman who had attended the retreat. So far, the four of us have answered the interview questions. During the coming months, we’ll be posing these same questions to each of the women who attended the AROHO retreat.  They’ll be posted on the AROHO (A Room of Her Own) blog.  To read about AROHO, see .

In the meantime, I’ve posted our own responses to the interview questions.  Tania interviewed Barbara and Tania was interviewed by Lisa Rizzo and Lisa was interviewed by me, but then Lisa interviewed me and so it will go!

Tania Pryputniewicz talks about the retreat

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Tania Pryputniewicz

Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, is there one specific moment or event you can identify that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?
I have the urge to delineate every conversation I had at AROHO’s summer 2011 retreat whether it occurred on that first shuttle to Ghost Ranch, on the morning hike down to breakfast, or sitting on the mesa watching for shooting stars. I didn’t realize just how isolated I’d come to feel (after ten years of immersion in motherhood). I am moved by the web of life-long friends working beside me in spirit now--a posse of cohorts possessing a rich range of personalities and passions. I am no longer a “Lone Ranger.”

During Kate Gale’s afternoon panel, “Become a Literary Citizen,” and the panel of “Non-profit Contrarians” composed of Darlene Chandler Bassett, Kate Gale, and Esther Cohen, the forthright conversations about how to share the responsibility for promoting one’s work and the work of others shifted how I perceived my role as both a writer and editor. I will now ask, as Kate suggested, “What tangible help can I offer the publisher/press that accepts my book for publication? What do I bring to the table besides my role as writer of the manuscript?” In addition, I felt excited as an editor of a small on-line magazine to consider ways of sharing resources and platforms with established non-profits as opposed to reinventing the wheel each time, an idea put forth by Darlene.

Walking back from the panel, Esther’s gentle but direct questions about the motivation behind my choice to be a poetry editor at The Fertile Source (Why are you drawn to the subject? Why do you care about how women are viewed? Was family important to you growing up?) helped me take stock and recalibrate my personal and professional intentions.

Is there a specific woman writer who inspires/d you? If so, can you tell us something about why?
Again, I am flooded with memories regarding each writer I met and feel hard pressed to choose just one. But here goes--I’m thinking of the night Bhanu Kapil read from her poetry collection, humanimal. I could sense the specter of wolf-raised girls, the energy of  those children as palpable as the sun warmed stone seats of the amphitheater and the tuning forks of the cacti at our backs. Later, I couldn’t sleep, the moon emanating through the three tiny windows of my room, a luminous, kaleidoscopic energy coursing through my mind.
During Bhanu’s Mind Stretch, she exuded that same multi-dimensional attention in her approach to her writing process when she shared the questions she posed as part of her process creating the poems for The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. I’m intensely inspired by the scope of her investigation into human relations and how it translates into her finished work.  Surely a woman who has the courage to ask other women, “Who was responsible for the suffering of your mother?”, and to write about the answers, will continue to leave a trail of profoundly transformative writing in her wake.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

One Week at Ghost Ranch

I’ve been following the activities of A Room of Her Own Foundation for almost as long as the organization has been in existence. Every two years, a one-week long retreat in August is held at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Every time there was a retreat, I thought I’d attend but as the time approached, it never seemed possible. Well, this year I actually did attend! Now, having done so, it easily could become my new obsession.
The dramatic landscape – red rock mountains, intense blue skies, unimaginable sunsets and mesas I’d seen only in postcards, is inspirational beyond belief. In fact, the ranch inspired artist Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings, a venue in which she spent so much of her time. Ghost Ranch has a way of engulfing even the most cynical in a cloak of subtle spirituality and deep contemplation.   
In August my lucky star shone! I spent an amazing week there as a participant in the AROHO retreat. Besides writing, contemplating both the physical and philosophical, I met inspiring women writers from every part of America. Each was totally unique, interesting, and creative and, if at first we thought we had nothing in common, we all seemed to have so much to share with one another.
A new friend said to me at the retreat, “You’re not anyone I would normally ever talk to.” Sounds interesting or worrisome? Not at all - I really knew exactly what she meant. For so many of us who came together during the retreat, that state was absolutely correct!  What an amazing opportunity to talk to all those women we never ever would talk to in our “normal” lives.
So, after all those conversations with so many women, four of us committed to interview as many women participants during the coming year as possible about their AROHO Retreat experiences. Each of us will be posting these interviews as they’re completed on our own blogs and then on AROHO’s.
My first post is an interview with poet Lisa Rizzo, the new friend who normally would never talk to someone like me. I hope you find the same inspiration in her words as I do.
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ghost Ranch Scenes

On the mesa at Tumbleweed residence



AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Lisa Rizzo

Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, can you tell us about an idea, exercise or conversation that had either an identifiable impact upon your writing habits or became a finished piece of writing or one in process?  

I attended every Mind Stretch during the retreat, braving heat-induced hot flashes to soak in the incredible inspiration.  Everyone was wonderful but one session, in particular, had a huge impact upon my writing habits - the Mind Stretch led by Kate Gale. When she asked for a show of hands from those who regularly attend Pilates or yoga classes, I proudly raised my hand. I’ve attended Pilates twice a week for the last four years, one of them at 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays!  Then Kate wiped the smug grin off my face with her next question:  why couldn’t - or wouldn’t - we schedule the same time for our writing? That hit me hard.

 I’ve never tried, systematically, to schedule writing time for myself.  Why don’t I take care of my mind and creativity the same way I try to take care of my body?  Since that day, I’ve set a goal: to write everyday at scheduled times – that means writing something other than my teaching related. Since returning home from Ghost Ranch, I’ve mostly kept that promise to myself, missing only five days.  Because I can’t always grab the afternoon time I originally planned, some of my writing takes late at night when everyone else in my household has gone to sleep. The house is quiet.  The amount of my writing time has increased but now I’ll have to work to make sure I don’t suffer from sleep deprivation!

Is there one specific moment or event at the retreat that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer.

I can pinpoint one moment that changed the way I perceive myself as a writer.  I was sitting in my small group, one for late bloomers, i.e.,writers over 50.  As I talked with that incredible group of women about writing, a real chill of fear suddenly coursed through me. I had an epiphany that since coming to AROHO I would have to actually start taking myself seriously as a writer – and that terrified me. What a responsibility!  Now I had “come out” as a writer with all these women. They even accepted me as a serious writer. There was no returning to the dark hiding place, the one in which I tell no one about my writing, where I can spend weeks at a time and not even think about writing.  That was the moment I began to own the title “writer”.

How would you describe your typical writing day?

During the school year, there is no typical writing “day.” Often, writing time consists of stolen moments. Since being a teacher is incredibly demanding - mentally and physically, I’m often exhausted when I get home.  At AROHO I conceptualized a plan: to sit down to write as soon as I’ve changed out of my work clothes, a plan that doesn’t always work.  Sometimes other life responsibilities get in the way. That’s when I fall back to late night sessions as a time to put a few words onto the page.  During weekends, I make the effort to get up early and write before anyone else is awake. As soon as my household stirs, my mind is divided and I no longer concentrate as well. 

Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?

Attending the AROHO retreat has changed my work in many ways. First, I’ve become involved in this collaborative project, AROHO Writers Interview Team (AWIT).  Also, after talking to many of the wonderful bloggers whom I met there, I’ve mustered the courage to start my own blog.  Both of these projects have been so exciting. I’ve actually been dreaming about them! I generally don’t even remember my dreams so that’s really amazing

I’m also implementing another piece of advice from Kate Gale. She talked about outlining a work - start to finish, even a book of poetry. I’ve never before thought about doing that with my poetry so now I’m attempting to envision my theme for a new book of poems.

About Lisa: 
Lisa Rizzo is a poet and middle school language arts teacher who manages to combine her love of words and poetry with her day job. Born in Texas, Lisa grew up in Chicago and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area 30 years ago. Rizzo has participated in numerous poetry workshops around the Bay Area.  For five years, she led a poetry workshop herself, which culminated in the self-publication of a group chapbook, Five Windows. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Lucid Stone, 13th Moon, Writing for Our Lives, Earth’s Daughters, Bellowing Ark and Calyx Journal.  Her chapbook, In the Poem an Ocean was published by Big Table Publishing Co.  She recently entered the “blogosphere” with her blog Poet Teacher Seeks World.

Read Lisa Rozzo's interview of me answering the same questions.