By Alyssa Ennis
This interview series is meant to focus on the interactions between reading and writing through the lens of three Spring 2017 Windmill authors. The Windmill editorial staff hopes you enjoy this glimpse into the reading habits and writerly inspirations of our talented contributors.
Laura Gill has recently completed her MFA at Bennington College and has been published previously in the Blue Mesa Review. Laura’s piece in the upcoming edition of Windmill, Disorder, is an excellent creative nonfiction piece about growing up and dealing with hardships both real and imagined. Be sure to check it out when the magazine arrives in May!
What book have you read recently that you would recommend to people who enjoyed your piece in Windmill?
Laura Gill: What comes to mind is The Balloonists by Eula Biss. It isn’t a book I read very recently, but it is a book that repeatedly came up when I was workshopping drafts of “Disorder.” While the pieces are different in numerous ways, they are similar (at least I hope) in the bringing together of various memories and anecdotes to construct a kind of whole. I look up to all of Biss’s work, but “The Balloonists” is most directly about her relationship to her family’s narrative(s), and I think if that was something about “Disorder” that resonated for a reader, they might appreciate “The Balloonists” in particular.
Is there a book or other piece of writing that inspired you to become a writer yourself?
LG: From a young age, I was told I was “not a reader,” and for a long time, I was convinced it was true, in part because I could never answer this type of question. In many ways, what first inspired me to write were stories from my friends and family—I liked real life, and the storytelling within it. One of my first “stories” was about four of my friends and how their distinct relationships to their parents impacted their lives. While my first inspiration has been the stories of the people I know and love, I have certainly found an altogether different kind of inspiration in the craft of communicating those stories in beautiful, surprising and poignant ways. After a lull in writing post-college, it was Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay that reignited my love for language. While the discovery came later in life, it was nevertheless the spark I needed to get back to the page. Telling stories with friends is wonderful and all, but it’s in the working to translate those stories to some kind of narrative that the purpose comes through.
Since Windmill is a literary magazine, what short fiction/nonfiction/poetry would you recommend? Do you have a favorite short literary work?
LG: Tough questions! So many options! I’ll go with the first of each that came to mind. The first story was James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”— it’s incredible to me how much of a world we get in such a small amount of space, and I love how patient Baldwin is in building us to an ending that feels as moving as any novel’s. The first poem was Marie Howe’s, “The Gate,” about her late brother, and one of their interactions before his death; within one distilled, and rather mundane gesture, she captures an entire relationship and her grief in the loss of it. The first piece of nonfiction was Meghan Daum’s piece, “Difference Maker,” about her ambivalence toward motherhood, and her experience with what she refers to as the “Central Sadness.” The essay is a part of her collection “Unspeakable,” which exposes the truths we’d prefer not to speak about, and the ways in which our silences can wreak havoc on not just us but our relationships with one another.
What are you currently reading?
LG: I’m currently reading Middlemarch and Mary Gaitskill’s new book of essays: Somebody with a Little Hammer. I haven’t yet made it very far in either, but I have a feeling that the pairing could be fruitful—in each, the authors investigate the societal constructs that are both the current and undercurrents of their lives.
Is there an aspect of reading that you feel helps you improve as a writer?
LG: Every aspect of reading helps me improve as a writer—whether it’s a book I can barely get through or a book I’m devouring, I find the act of reading is integral to the way I write and the topics I feel compelled to write about. As I mentioned, I was not a kid who read all the time and even now, I find I am consistently behind many of my friends in terms of the volume of texts I read. I think it’s in part because I don’t see reading as entertainment so much as I see it as work. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable for me and that I am in some way “above” that component of reading, but when I am reading, I am often considering what is happening on the page, and it’s hard for me to turn off the side of me that either does or doesn’t want to write in that way. I remember my mother giving me Anne Fadiman’s book Ex Libris—I loved the first page so much that my first response was “I want to do this,” and then my second response was jealousy. I find jealousy to be essential to my life as a reader and a writer, and while many people have told me the jealousy is a base and useless emotion, I think it’s been a valuable guide for me to knowing what I want to accomplish and how I might be able to do so.
Do you have a favorite book? What do you say to convince people to read it?
LG: I realize this may appear like a cop out, but the honest answer would be that I don’t have a favorite book. I have always wanted to be a person who did, but I find certain books compel me at different times, and I’m aware of of that fact when I go to recommending or convincing people to read those books. There are a few books I find myself recommending often because I think they changed me in some way, and those are: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion, Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss, and The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems. To me, these texts are linked by possibility—to read any of them is to see just what language can do.
What’s next on your to-read list?
LG: Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things is next on my list!