Water~Stone Review is a collaborative project of students, faculty, and staff at Hamline University Creative Writing Programs. In addition to working with our faculty, and to fulfill a larger initiative of providing a place for new/emerging and underrepresented voices at Water~Stone Review, we now have rotating contributing editor
This is a wonderful opportunity for our graduate student assistant editors to collaborate with renown writers in order to expand our reach and further innovation. Past Contributing Editors include Sun Yung Shin, Keith Lesmeister, Sean Hill, Carolyn Holbrook, Mona Power, Kao Kalia Yang, and Ed Bok Lee.
In this post we introduce Vol. 27 Contributing Creative Nonfiction Editor, Kathryn Savage
Welcome! We’re delighted to have you as our contributing nonfiction editor for Volume 27. As a hybrid author and lyric essayist, how do you find the connecting threads of your pieces? Do you have a process for bringing your nonfiction characters to life on the page?
Thank you for the warm welcome! I’m equally delighted to be serving as a contributing nonfiction editor for Volume 27 of the very wonderful Water~Stone Review. A lot of what informs my approach to nonfiction comes from the dual influences of short fiction and poetry. Before I wrote essays, I studied fiction and poetry writing. Now, I apply what I’ve learned about plot and character, lyric precision, and the pleasures of language, to nonfiction. I attend to character interiority and descriptive language as I write. On finding the connecting threads—thank you for the question, I love it—I draw inspiration from Lidia Yuknavitch’s insights about the braided essay. In short, I try to understand the threads within essays as physical and woven, and, like strands of a braid, weave them together as I work.
You are an assistant professor at The Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), where you teach creative writing courses. What are some essential craft lessons that you impart to your nonfiction students?
I encourage the nonfiction writers I meet in the classroom to trust themselves. To read widely, with respect to both form and content, and find ways to cultivate stillness and patience within their writing practice. I think nonfiction writers, all writers, have an innate wisdom about what we write about and the shapes our stories take. Even more exciting, I teach at an art and design college. The writers I meet at MCAD are illustrators, filmmakers, textile artists, photographers—I could go on! It was encountering Montaigne’s characterizing of essays as “attempts” that nudged me to radically reconsider what the essay is, can be, and what my relationship is to it. Now, I love thinking about collage and visual elements alongside nonfiction writing, and I actively encourage experimentation across various media forms. In my classrooms final writing portfolios have been accompanied with photography; poets have woven their words into textile installations; essayists have animated their memoirs. I draw inspiration in my writing and teaching from works that are hybrid or multi-genre, like Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief, and Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle’s multi-genre memoir SIR. I believe it was Marilynne Robinson who said, “Find the dense warm urgent place in your imagination.” This is what I encourage in the writers I have the honor of working with: find the dense warm urgent place in your imagination, show it tenderness, and then see what emerges in your work.
When reading nonfiction, what elements often make you remember the piece after you’ve set it down?
I think reading is incredibly intimate, and I find a feeling of closeness stays with me. Reading Natalie Diaz’s poetry; Lesley Nneka Arimah and Amy Hempel’s short stories; Teju Cole’s essays–how to describe it? I feel drawn in, close. Maybe more practically, aspects of interiority, by which I mean the reader’s ability to perceive a character’s thoughts, feelings, internal reactions, and impressions, is compelling. I am also interested in place. Currently, I’m reading Charles Baxter’s Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of Literature and have been drawn to what Baxter calls wonderlands. Places where (I paraphrase), setting is as alive as the characters. (Think the Overlook Hotel in The Shining or the Manhattan apartment building in Rosemary’s Baby). There’s something psychically or psychologically supercharged in wonderland narratives. Whether the genre is horror or otherwise, tension held in the balance between what’s known and unknown, and known but unspoken, compels me. I had the honor of studying with Douglas Kearney when I was an MFA poetry student at the U of M, Twin Cities. I remember when he quoted Fred Moten in class about how poetry, inspired by music, can attempt to, (quoting Moten): “Get at what is essential to that music, perhaps it will approach the secret of the music, but only by way of that secret’s poetic reproduction.” The idea of something being invaluable yet beneath the surface draws me in. Related, here’s a wonderful interview between David Naimon and Douglas Kearney that gets further at some of Fred Moten’s ideas. I highly recommend their conversation!
Are you working on any new pieces now?
Thank you for asking! I am writing short stories and poems. I have a new idea percolating for a second work of lyric essays (it’s so fresh it’s mostly something I think about while walking the dog). I used to think, naively and mistakenly, that writers’ chose the genre they worked in, and never departed. But recently, I’ve drawn inspiration from Ocean Vuong and Diane Wilson and other writers whose work spans genres. Mostly, I’m focused on process now. Just making more time in the days to write. Reinvigorating my writing routine, and seeing what comes.
Kathryn Savage’s Groundglass: An Essay (Coffee House Press), explores topics of environmental justice and links between pollution and public health. Recipient of the Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize, her writing across forms has been supported by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, Ucross Foundation, and Tulsa Artist Fellowship. Recent writing appears or is forthcoming in American Short Fiction, BOMB Magazine, Ecotone Magazine, Guernica, VQR, Water~Stone Review, World Literature Today, and the anthology Rewilding: Poems for the Environment. Currently she is an assistant professor of creative writing at The Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).