Tag Archives: Carson McCullers

A Virtual Interview with Nicole Cortichiato

Nicole Cortichiato will be the featured reader Thursday, November 14, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Nicole Cortichiato is a writer with narcolepsy who resides on the edge of consciousness. You’ll find her napping in unusual places and making a creative life of joy and service despite her disability. She’s published numerous poems, plays, and children’s stories that blend fiction with reality and dark humor with optimism. Her short play “Fries” was featured in TILT Performance Group’s production of “Flip Side Redux.” She also won 2nd place in Austin Film Festival’s First Three Pages Live competition for her TV script “How to Grow a Man.” If you attend an open mic in Austin, chances are you will see Nicole perform. She’s been featured at Malvern Books’ I Scream Social and Writer’s Roulette, NeWorlDeli’s Poetry Night, and the One Page Salon with Owen Egerton. On the side she is also a member of the band Nicole and Eric’s Guide to a Meaningful Life in which she plays theremin and gives life advice. She lives in Austin with her partner and two demanding corgis.

The Interview

CH: What first interested you in writing? What is your first memory of writing?

NC: Children’s books. I loved the humor, simplicity and illustrations.

I wrote a few short stories in 2nd grade about a dachshund named Boodie. But honestly, I mostly read during my early years or tried to. Often, I would fall asleep because of my undiagnosed narcolepsy.  I wrote in journals and such but it was mostly therapy. I didn’t start writing seriously until about 2012.

CH: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer? As a poet?

NC: Only in the last few years. But honestly, sometimes I cringe when people compliment my writing or even call me a writer. Not because I don’t think I am one, but probably because I’m still learning to take a compliment.

CH: In addition to poetry, you’ve also published plays and children’s stories, and you’ve written a TV script. How would you describe yourself as a writer?

NC: Easy going. I’m not hard on myself regarding what I write or don’t write– and I’m not a perfectionist. I edit of course but I don’t make myself crazy doing it. I do make sure I come back around and finish poems or stories that I’ve started. But once I’ve read them out loud at an open mic a couple of times then I’m kind of done with editing. I’m also a meditative writer.

CH: Do you have a primary identity as a writer?

NC: No, I’m just a perpetual learner. If there is a class that makes me uncomfortable, then I will make myself take it. For example, the very thought of memoir made me ill so I took a class on it. I’m probably still trying to figure out my identity but I prefer to dip in as many genre pools as I can.

CH: What excites you about theatrical writing? How do you see the intersection between your theatrical writing and poetry?

NC: Figuring out what is funny and what is not. And of course seeing your play performed and watching how the audience reacts. I like discovering what kind of dialogue keeps an audience’s attention. I feel blessed I can even keep people from getting bored.

When I write theatrically it is mostly dialogue and relationships. My poetry often has a bit of humor. What interests me most about the two intersecting is my connection with the audience. I like to surprise people.

CH: What is your writing life like?

NC: I don’t write everyday. I write mainly in the morning. I don’t care what I write about and I don’t think about it too much before hand. I just write. And then later I’ll read it — sometimes weeks or years later. Sometimes I’ll take a line from it and make a poem or a story. Sometimes I’ll make my list of things to do for the day and I’m inspired. Or I’ll take notes of conversations.

My favorite thing to do is to take a writing class or workshop because then you know you are producing and learning. And the great thing about a class is you can apply almost any idea to the assignments in class. I love the creative writing classes at Austin Community College. I highly recommend them. If I do have a specific goal with my writing— I will meditate before or during the process.

CH: You’ve been public about having narcolepsy. How does your experience with this disability shape your writing?

NC: In the beginning my writing was internal. It was mainly in journals and my therapy. One thing that helped me take my internal to the external was getting a reaction to my poetry. I remember the first piece I read in front of an audience. One woman gasped after my reading and said, “Wow.” It was her reaction that probably encouraged me to get started.

CH: Tell us a little about your experience with the Imagine Art studio.

NC: Imagine Art is a wonderful art studio in Austin for adults with disabilities. When I first came to Austin, it was Imagine Art and Art Spark Texas that first nurtured my creative side regarding visual art and writing. I wrote and directed my first two plays at an Imagine Art artist retreat. And at Art Spark Texas I assisted with a storytelling class called “Opening Minds, Opening Doors (OMOD).” It was OMOD that helped me be a more succinct and impactful writer.

CH: What do you do to nurture yourself as a writer?

NC: I keep taking classes in anything and everything related to writing and performing. My most recent class was “Stand Up for Mental Health” through Art Spark Texas. In that class I learned how to be a stand up comic. I also constantly make myself perform at open mics. Reading poetry in front of a group is infectious and you learn a lot about how to edit your work. In addition to that, I study other people’s work. For example, every few months I go to BookPeople, (the children’s section) to review their newest books. I’ll grab a huge stack of them and then go back downstairs to the coffee shop and spend a couple of hours reviewing them in a notebook.

CH: What poetry do you find yourself turning to for inspiration? Who are some of your favorite writers?

NC: I like finding writers that are also good at performing their poetry. Right now I’m inspired by poetry with unique analogies. I prefer short poetry. And I like poems that tell stories.

My favorites are always changing. Maya Angelou (I love listening to her), John Steinbeck, Franz Kafka, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Arnold Lobel, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anthony de Mello, Tracy Oliver, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and Dina El Dessouky.

CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

NC: The Arrow” by Lauren Ireland. She has lines that stay with you.

A Virtual Interview with Melissa Studdard

Melissa Studdard will be the feature for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, March 10, 2016  from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.

Background

Melissa Studdard is host of VIDA Voices & Views, an editor for American Microreviews and Interviews, and a judge for the monthly Goodreads ¡Poetry! Group contest. She is also the author of the novel, Six Weeks to Yehidah, a poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfastand a collection of interviews, The Tiferet Talk Interviews. Her awards include the Forward National Literature Award and the International Book Award, among others.

Her poetry, fiction, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Poets & Writers, Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology TodayPleiades, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day. Of her debut poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, Robert Pinsky writes, “This poet’s ardent, winning ebullience echoes that of God…” and Cate Marvin says her work “would have no doubt pleased Neruda’s taste for the alchemic impurity of poetry.” Learn more at www.melissastuddard.com.

The Interview

CH: When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer? What drew you to writing?

MS: Reading drew me to writing. I have always loved reading, and, as a kid, I read way more than I watched television. I was that weird person who read War and Peace over spring break and several volumes of Remembrances of Things Past over the summer. I remember my aunt laughing and asking, “A little light reading for the holiday?”

The thing is, I didn’t know you could become a writer. Writers weren’t actual, living people, as far as I knew. They were were dead and had been so for a long time. So, it never even occurred to me that I could write too—not until I started to meet living writers in my early twenties in my master’s program at the University of Houston, and they demythologized authorship for me. The funny thing is that I was writing in my head all along—I just never thought to put it on the page.

I didn’t start thinking of myself as a writer until I was in my later thirties, though. I’ve been a single mom for decades, and I spent all my time taking care of my daughter and earning a living. It wasn’t until she was older and loved reading too that I sat down and wrote a book. I guess I was trying to impress her—and it worked until she became a teenager. Then I was uncool again.

CH: What led you to choose Sarah Lawrence for your MFA? How has that experience shaped your work as a writer?

MS: I mentioned above that I got my first master’s degree at the University of Houston. As long as I’ve been on the scene, there’s been a well-lit path between Sarah Lawrence and the University of Houston. I walked it backwards—most come from Sarah Lawrence to UH. But it was an easy choice. During the time I was working on my MA at UH, I was surrounded by Sarah Lawrence grads. I even wrote short stories featuring characters who were Sarah Lawrence alums.

When I finally got there for real, it was everything I wanted and more. The environment was one of total support, and there was a vibe of freedom and mutual respect. It was a creativity sanctuary. You were to be authentic, daring, and real. As well, the college helped instill a sense of purpose and social service. Gifts were to be shared. These ideals were not unique to the writing program; they were at the very heart of what it meant to be on that campus in any capacity.

That experience shaped my life as a writer by granting me permission to be who I am in my writing—to be weirdly and happily me instead of trying to write something appropriate or mainstream.

CH: You’ve published a novel and a collection of poetry, as well as a collection of interviews. Do you have a primary identity as a writer? If so, what would that be?

MS: Right now I’d have to say no. In my physical life, I’m a bit nomadic. I like to travel around. I like to meet new people, try new things, have new experiences. I think it’s just who I am. It’s no coincidence that my debut collection is called I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast. I’m hungry. It’s about creating, giving, changing, trying new things. I think there are obvious reasons many of us write—to share, to connect, to make art—but pulsing beneath it all for me is a desire to set myself free and to find my courage. Aren’t they one and the same, anyway?

CH: What inspired you to write Six Weeks to Yehidah? How was that process for you? How did the idea for its companion, My Yehidah, come about?

MS: As I mentioned above, when you get right down to it, I wrote it for my daughter. But, as you know, inspiration is multifaceted. I was inspired by the children’s books I had been reading her—things like The Phantom Tollbooth and The wizard of Oz series. I was also inspired by non-fiction books I was reading about wisdom traditions. I wanted to share those traditions with kids and young adults in a fun, exciting way. One last cone in the inspiration potpourri was that I was in a writer’s group, and I was assigned to read The Oxford Book of Fairy Tales and write a short tale. That’s how the book began. It was just a short tale, and I fell in love with the characters and kept going and going. I had a friend who was also writing a book then, and we exchanged a chapter a month. It kept me going. The book is 19 chapters, and I wrote it in 19 months.

The companion came about because I knew this fabulous artist, Cheryl Kelley, and I was struck by the idea that with her illustrations, we could offer a journal and workbook that could personalize the main character Annalise’s journey for kids.

CH: I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast has been very well-received. How was this book conceived? What was your process in putting it together?

MS: The publisher, Ron Starbuck, said he’d like to bring out a collection of my poems, but I didn’t have one yet. I’d just been writing poems between stories and chapters, and though I really wanted to write a book of poetry someday, I didn’t think the poems I’d written made that—a collection, a complete thing. When I started looking at my poems I began to notice patterns, and I wrote poems to fill in gaps. It was really important to me to have a loose, organic sort of cohesion, and I worked hard for about a year to achieve the kind of associative and unconscious logical connections between poems and sections that was in the poems themselves. Here’s an article at Shewrites that details my exact process, with all the birthing pains and small victories included.

CH: How did you become interested in being an interviewer? How has your work as an interviewer influenced you as a writer?

MS: I was an editor at Tiferet Journal at the time, and the publisher, Donna Baier Stein, wanted to start a podcast and asked me to host it. To this day I’m surprised and flattered that she chose me. She said my voice was warm. That was really a lovely thing to say. So, I said “YES!” Flattery will get you far with me. Eventually, she started to co-host, and then it finally became clear to me that she was doing a great job with it and didn’t really need me anymore, so I started doing VIDA Voices & Views instead. I also curate interviews for American Microreviews & Interviews.

Interviewing is a great passion of mine. I try to interview people who I truly want to study and who I believe have a lot to share. I read everything I can by them—not just their books but their interviews and articles too. I read reviews of their work. I watch their podcasts and listen to their recordings. I tell you this because the answer to the second part of your question is tremendously. When you study someone to the extent I do to interview them, you learn their style and their obsessions and how they approach their subject matter. You even learn, to some degree, how they think. It’s a great honor to interview someone and learn from them in this way.

CH: When I look at your website (melissastuddard.com), I find myself thinking you must be incredibly busy with your work as college professor, interviewer, writer, and editor. With all that going on, how do you create balance in your life?

MS: I won’t kid you—I feel utterly overwhelmed at times. But I love the work, so the work itself reenergizes me. I also make time to rest. Doing nothing, meaning staring at a bird hopping along a limb for an hour or watching a fire crackle, is one of the most soul nourishing, creativity nourishing, and important activities a writer (or human!) can engage in. We need time to daydream and fantasize in order to be creative—even to creatively problem solve outside of the arts. We need time to listen to the earth and the sky and the hum of humanity. It’s sometimes hard to claim that time for ourselves, because we fear we are not doing anything, but we are.

I also meditate and do yoga. I go for a bike ride several times a week. I walk around my neighborhood. I believe in recreation and rest as vital aspects of life and creativity. I say all of this as a reforming workaholic, of course.

CH: What are your current writing projects? What do you see on the horizon in the next couple of years?

MS: I’m happily embroiled in poetry at the moment. I do plan to write more fiction in the future, and possibly even a memoir, but I think the next two books will be poetry. I’m working on them simultaneously. One is a book about a girl who is sort of half-myth and half-dream. She has suffered some abuse, and the book is almost an out-of body sort of response to that abuse, though there are other characters and multiple viewpoints. The other book is all the poems I am writing that do not fit into that book. Like with I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, I’m trusting that the organizational path will appear when I put my foot on the ground.

CH: Which writers have been your strongest influences? What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

MS: The most recent book of poetry I’ve read is Behind my Eyes, by Li-Young Lee. It was a re-reading. I love him. He’s definitely one of my favorite poets. Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I put one of his readings on YouTube to soothe myself to sleep, which is kind of funny because he has a poem called “Virtues of the Boring Husband,” in which his talking makes his wife fall asleep. He’s not boring though, I can assure you. His lines take twists and turns and make associations I’d never have foreseen—all so gracefully, so elegantly, so naturally.

Other favorites (which are also influences, of course) are Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton, Gabriel García Márquez, Amy King, César Vallejo, Audre Lorde, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Dorothy Bryant, Yehuda Amichai, Lucille Clifton, Alejandra Pizarnik, Carson McCullers. I could list so many, but those are the ones who come to mind just now.

CH: What advice would you give a writer who is interested in working in a genre that is new to them?

MS: Know what you love to read in that genre and why. Do you love a writer’s voice? Their character development? The way they handle metaphor? Figure out exactly what thrills you about the books you love, and then you go do it too. You have the opportunity to thrill someone the way your favorite writers have thrilled you. You have the potential to be someone else’s favorite writer. Isn’t that wonderful?