There’s nothing like reading through a pile of submissions
to show you what’s cliche or overdone or just dull.
Juliana Gray’s second poetry collection, Roleplay, won the 2010 Orphic Prize and was recently published by Dream Horse Press. Recent poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Barrow Street, Measure, 32 Poems, Waccamaw and elsewhere. An Alabama native, she lives in western New York and is an associate professor of English at Alfred University.
Poem: “Zucchini” at Waccamaw
Interview at “The Black Telephone”
How Juliana Gray Became a Writer
This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Juliana for saying yes!
Doesn’t every writer begin as a reader? I loved books and stories and poems, and wanted to make more of them. Somewhere in the depths of my storage is the Hardy Boys book I tried to write (and illustrate, clumsily) when I was about eight years old. I’ve destroyed the Doctor Who and comic book fan fiction. But I think it all goes back to that impulse of trying to crack the thing you love, to see how it was done and to try for yourself to create that pleasure in another reader.
After the fan fiction? I went to the University of Alabama and took a creative writing class. My professor was a grad student named Rob Trucks, and he was a pretty irascible guy, but he was a good fit for me, and encouraged me to take more classes. I wound up with a creative writing minor and some experience working on our undergraduate literary magazine, which was hugely instructive. There’s nothing like reading through a pile of submissions to show you what’s cliche or overdone or just dull.
3. Who helped you along the way, and how?
So, so many people have helped me. Andrew Hudgins, my mentor from UC, and his wife Erin McGraw are at the top of that list. They’ve been wonderful friends for years. One of the best things they did for me was to encourage me to go to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. I did, and I wound up working on the staff of that conference for the next thirteen years. There I met Wyatt Prunty, Alan Shapiro, Mark Jarman, Claudia Emerson, Erica Dawson, Leah Stewart, Kevin Wilson, Leigh Anne Couch, Phil Stephens and so many other great writers who became friends. I’m going to make you sorry you asked this question. Danny Anderson, Mary Jo Salter, Jill McCorkle, Randall Kenan, Tony Earley, Christine Schutt, John Casey, R.S. Gwynn, David Yezzi, Margot Livesey, Mark Strand, Carrie Jerrell, Caki Wilkinson, Sandra Beasley, Chelsea Rathburn, Charles Martin, and so many others who’ve given me feedback on my writing and supported me with their friendship. I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of this community of writers.
I was thinking about this recently, because I’m going to an artists’ retreat in the fall, and the residents are supposed to bring a book that inspires them. I’ll be bringing Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems. Larkin’s life doesn’t inspire me in the sense that I want to live it– I think he was a lonely, unhappy man– but in that he was able to write so well and see so much from the confines of his rather circumscribed life. He didn’t have to travel the world and attend fabulous parties or go mad– he just went to work every day and kept his eyes open. I’m a homebody, so that appeals to me.
Dear Aspiring Writer: I hope you’re prepared to fail. In the meantime, read everything you can get your hands on. Have opinions about it. Write lots. Imitate the ones you love. Listen to your teachers. Know that improving means changing. And keep writing. xox, Juliana.