In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Marjorie Hakala

by Jan 3, 2019


1. Tell us about your essay in Volume 20. How did it come to be?

My essay, “Verdure,” is about the color green in different places I’ve been. It has a very mundane origin story: It was my turn to send some work to my writing group, and I didn’t have anything new to send, so I looked around and saw the trees starting to come into leaf and decided to write about that. I took some inspiration for the structure from Amy Leach’s essay “Love,” which is about different plants with “love” in their names. It’s made of fragments that speak to each other indirectly. My essay ended up being more autobiographical than that, because I started thinking about my experiences of travel and homesickness and finding comfort in green places.

2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?

I loved to read as a kid so I wanted to write—as simple as that! I used to feel very insecure about this, because I heard a fair bit of advice that said, “You should only write if you feel you absolutely have to.” I didn’t feel an irresistible inner call, and actually being locked into one vocation because you can’t bear anything else seems pretty grim. I just liked writing more than I liked most other things, and I wanted to get better at it and be part of that conversation, and that’s still how I feel. Writing makes me feel more alive and more myself and more of a useful and vital human being in the world, which is maybe what all that advice was trying to get at.

3. How has writing shaped your life?

It’s shaped all my decisions about where to live and what to do! I moved to New York after college, but I wasn’t really happy there, and then the 2008 recession happened so there weren’t great career opportunities there either. Meanwhile I was trying to write fiction, and I just had a terrible time trying to come up with plots. At a certain point the thought, “Do they do MFAs in nonfiction?” dropped into my head, and I upended my entire life to make that happen: I left the city, taught abroad for a year while working on essays to use in grad school applications, got into Hamline and moved to Saint Paul and found a couple jobs that left my evenings free for classes. So really my entire daily life is owed to my decision to prioritize writing.

4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?

I mentioned Amy Leach already—my writing is not much like hers, but the lyrical joy in her work is inspiring to me. Elena Passarello and Donovan Hohn are two of my favorites for the way they research a topic and write creatively and passionately about it, while keeping an eye on the truth of the matter. A bunch of my favorite essays come from magazines and haven’t appeared in books as far as I know: I think a lot about Melora Wolff’s essay “Masters in This Hall,” A. Papatya Buçak’s “Eight Questions You Would Ask Me if I Told You My Name,” Zoe Selengut’s “Selling Books in Cold Places.” They all have authoritative, distinct voices and they all write about ordinary life in ways that no one else could.

5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?

A bunch of things. My MFA thesis was about zoos, and it’s been on the back burner for a while now but I’m looking for ways back in, because I still care a lot about that project and I’d like to see it become a book. I’m doing some research to revise and deepen pieces of the thesis—right now I’m working my way through an old book about Egypt in the 1820s. I’m tossing around drafts and ideas for some more memoir-ish short pieces and I have a couple of those out on submission. It’s nice to have short pieces in the works so I can finish something! But I have to pay attention and not just start writing six pieces at once about different subjects, because then I don’t get the time to think deeply about any of them, and thinking deeply about things is my favorite part of writing CNF.

Visit Marjorie’s Tumblr here.


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