Cracking Open the Self: an Interview with Lisa Knopp
Check out my interview with Evelyn Somers in the current issue of Bloom, which according to the publication’s website is “a literary site devoted to highlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older. Bloom is also a community of artists and readers who believe that “late” is a relative term, not an absolute one, and who are interested in bringing to attention a wide variety of artistic paths — challenging any narrow, prevailing ideas about the pacing and timing of creative fruition. If someone is labeled a “late bloomer,” the question Bloom poses is, “Late” according to whom?”
Evelyn and I talked about how I discovered the essay; why I stopped writing about nature; my new book about my friend, Carey Dean Moore, who was executed by the state of Nebraska last August for double murder; how near poverty affected my writing and more. You can and the entire interview at:
Here are a few snippets.
On discovering the essay:
ES: I share with you the experience of being around creative nonfiction, in my case editing it, at the point just before it became a “legitimate” genre that a lot of people were trying to write and publish and that people were teaching. It’s been remarkable to see a genre explode the way it has; to be right there at that point and to be young when it was starting and then be mature when it had really matured itself. That was what happened to you.
LK: It was when I went to UNL, probably my second year there, it would have been about the fall of 1989, that I went to a book fair. It was mostly composition texts. The rep said, “Do you want a free book? And he handed me the Best American Essays 1988 that was edited by Annie Dillard, and I went home for the winter break, stayed with my folks out in the country. I had my son, who was four years old, and they said, “You just do what you want to. We’re going to take care of him.” So I read these essays and marked them up, and I would go on long walks and think about them and come home and read more essays, and imitate sentences and look at different ways that authors were developing their writing.
During that semester break, I wrote “Pheasant Country,” the essay, and I remember a huge breakthrough on that. Actually, there were two. One was that when I thought the essay was finished, I kept going with it because I could see what those writers in the Best American Essayswere doing, the different ways that they were developing or dilating their subject matter. It was so exciting. It’s exciting just to think about it. And another thing that occurred to me was that I could write about my own stuff through someone else. There’s a point in that essay where I wrote about intuitive flashes. But I didn’t write about my own; I wrote about those I had observed in others. That too was a breakthrough. The short little things I wrote were done; it was like I’d figured something out about how to write an essay. The next several things I wrote were published and nominated for Best American Essays, which kind of blew me away.
ES: You’ve been practicing nonfiction for many years now. What is the one quality the essay can’t live without?
LK: It’s got to be observed, reported details, but then there has to be reflection. If an author is deeply reflective, I will read them even if I don’t like their subject or persona. There’s something about really rich reflection that is so important to me. You do have to observe the world and report it well, but that other is what pushes it into some higher level: the reflection.
ES: As I was reading Interior Places, here and there I got bits of autobiography, and one of the things I discovered about you was that you were, after a while, a single mother. You were also in that situation of being a single mother with financial limitations. It’s a common female experience in this country—globally too. You didn’t have the “room of your own.” You didn’t have the privilege of having enough time to write or enough money to be independently writing. How did that experience impact your work?
LK: For thirteen years in the middle of my career, I worked part time. Part of that time, I was married, so I didn’t suffer financially then. But for the last seven of those years, I taught in the Goucher College MFA program. I had a prestigious job—that’s the only MFA program in the country that’s devoted just to creative nonfiction, and it’s low-residency, and I did a little substitute teaching on the side. I’m grateful for that time because I was very available to my children and I wrote a lot. But we were pretty poor. I told one friend my income, and she gasped. Gasped. That kind of says it all. There were a couple of book projects that I considered doing during this time, but I didn’t have the money for the travel and research they would have demanded. So, I wrote essays about nearby creeks and prairies, which only required a little gas money to get there. I don’t regret the choices I made, but the lack of financial well-being during those years continues to affect the choices I make now.