Interview by Kelcey Parker
TW is pleased to join author Kelcey Parker in co-publishing interviews with some of our featured writers. Kelcey's "How to Become a Writer" series appears on her website Ph.D. in Creative Writing, where she's been running interviews with authors since July 2011. Each writer answers the same five questions.
Theresa Williams is a university lecturer, author, and artist. She is also a contributing writer at Talking Writing—and creator of The Letter Project, an online repository for actual letters, written and sent.
Her novel The Secret of Hurricanes was published by MacAdam/Cage in 2002. Theresa’s short stories and poems have appeared in The Sun, Hunger Mountain, Gargoyle, DMQ Review, Paterson Literary Review, and Lilliput Review, among other magazines. Her haibun chapbook, The Galaxy to Ourselves, was published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press.
TW’s Spring 2013 issue features Theresa’s essay about writing and nature, “I Hear the Woods Beating.” As she notes there:
I live on twelve acres, ten of which grow wild with milkweed, briars, and thistle. Summers, the land hums with insects. I pointed the camera at a cooperative mantis. As I was focusing, the insect suddenly turned and looked at me. And I realized that nature doesn’t exist solely for my purposes….
1. Why did you want to become a writer?
TW: I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but the desire to be a writer evolved much more slowly. The first step was when I took my first fiction workshop at East Carolina University. I took it on a lark. That’s what started my adult writing life. But I think my biggest epiphany about writing was fairly recent: It happened when I remembered how much fun writing was when I was a child. I used to make newsletters to entertain my friends. I’m back to that concept now: writing for fun. It’s glorious!
2. How did you go about becoming a writer?
TW: University classes got me started. But it was hard to maintain the writing life after graduation. After I finished the MFA, I didn’t write for five years. When I started writing again, it was like starting all over. It took a lot of soul searching. I had to force myself to go into my writing room and slave away. It was like digging holes in hard dirt. Now my writing life isn’t separate from the rest of my life, and, as I said earlier, I’m having fun.
3. Who helped you along the way and how?
TW: Without a doubt, the editors who published my early work. They gave me hope, and without hope, all is pretty much lost. I still credit editors of magazines, big and small, with keeping writing alive, not just for me, but for many people.
4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?
TW: I’m inspired by writers and artists who overcame great obstacles to keep writing and making art. I look to writers like James Wright and Theodore Roethke who had mental conditions that affected their ability to write. James Wright wrote a lot of tortured poetry, but he also wrote things like:
Each moment of time is a mountain.
An eagle rejoices in the oak trees of heaven,
This is what I wanted.
5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?
TW: Actually, I write lots of letters to aspiring writers. I believe in letters and encourage people to write letters. In my letters, I remind aspiring writers to read a lot and to write a lot. I remind them that they are unique and have things to say. I tell them that if they write with honesty, people will want to read what they write.
I also try to answer their questions about writing honestly and to give them the sense that they have truly been “heard.” Despite all the connections we make on social media, I think a lot of people suffer from the condition of not being heard, so they learn to hide their innermost desires as a form of self-protection. It’s like putting their diamonds in a lock box where they will be safe. The problem with a lock box is that the beauty isn’t accessible. Eventually, one even forgets it’s there.
The diamonds are our imagination, our art, our spirit—what keeps us truly alive.
This interview originally appeared in a different format as “How Theresa Williams Became a Writer” in Ph.D. in Creative Writing on June 2, 2013.
Read More by Theresa Williams in Talking Writing
- “How Haiku Changed My Writing Life,” Nov/Dec 2012.
- “What We Risk Losing in the Facebook Age,” March/April 2012.
- “What Writing Program Critics Don’t Know,” Sept/Oct 2011.
- “Marshmallow Clouds and Kool-Aid Wine,” Summer 2011.
- “Lawrence’s Apples,” February 2011.
- “On Writing,” January 2011.