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Interview: Meghan Nesmith, 2010 Fall

In Capital Letters (ICL): What authors, poets, books, poems, stories, writing do you return to again and again?

Unfortunately, I have the attention span of a toddler, so I'm frequently falling for a writer and then forgetting everything a week later. The work I'm reading right now is mostly about Newfoundland, for my thesis. There are some fantastic Maritime writers—Michael Crummey, Lisa Moore, Alistair MacLeod, Annie Proulx, Mark Kurlansky’s book about cod, etc.—that’s who I’m spending time with lately. Ever since I discovered Letters to a Young Poet about 6 years ago, I've had a massive crush on Rilke. He is somehow lyrical and bone-scrapingly honest all at once. I struggle with that balance and I admire his work immensely. Naomi Wallace and Sam Shepard are two playwrights in whose work I get lost—I love their ability to meld language with grit. Then there are the modern magical realists—David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Timothy Findley (a Canadian writer who doesn’t get enough attention)—and I’ve grown seriously attached to Virginia Woolf since being at AU.

ICL: When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer?

I know everyone has one of these stories, about being a kid and self-publishing a book about a bunny who mothers a baby duck, and bam—you've written your first novel. My great grandmother kept mine with her at her nursing home. But honestly, I still don't think of myself as a writer. I read a great quote from Gary Shteyngart recently—“I’m always shocked by Americans and their self-confidence. They haven’t published anything, and you ask them what they do and they say: “I’m a writer.” I say, “Oh, who is your publisher?” And they say, “Oh, well…I’ve been working on this book for the past 87 years and it’s brilliant but…’”— So I've been chewing on that. On the other hand, I think it is important to own your chosen life, and since I've apparently chosen this one....

ICL: You are very well versed in poetry, fiction and non-fiction. How do you prepare yourself to write in all the styles and which of them do you prefer and why?

Well, part of the reason I write in all the genres is that I don’t feel well-versed in any. I did a lot of playwriting in college and if I could do that here too, I would. I envy those of my peers who are able to affix themselves with one label—it would be very clarifying. I think I gravitate to whichever style feels most difficult at the moment, because I find that as soon as I start to grasp specific conventions or rules, the work becomes rote. And truthfully, I don’t see firm genre lines. We choose the right words for the story we want to tell, and the words should tell us how they need to be arranged—how to bring the most clarity and beauty to that particular story.

ICL: Are certain themes central to your work?

Home. Ocean. Fish. Family. I need some new ones. 

ICL- You have a degree in Theater from Middlebury College in Vermont. How much does your theater background inform your writing now?

So much of what I love about theatre is in the same vein as literature —the words, really. The most exhilarating part of theatre, for me, is just getting the language in my mouth. I think it's a crime that we don't all read aloud more often. I love the visceral alchemy of theatre: you start with this black space and a group of awkward people standing there dully, and then you start speaking the words and moving your bodies and a month later there is magic in that space, an entire world you've created out of nothing. It's not wholly different from what we do with a blank piece of paper, although writing is much more solitary. Again, it’s all just storytelling.

ICL: If your life had a theme song right now, what would it be?

"Oh Canada." I'm perpetually homesick.

Meghan Nesmith