Journal of Writing & Environment

Interview with Liz Giorgi, Flyway’s Creative Director

By Ana Hurtado

AH: Where do you call home? Why? What makes this place home for you?

LG: I’m from Reading, Pennsylvania, like Reading Railroad on the Monopoly board; that’s actually where it’s from. What makes Reading home is not just the fact that I grew up there, but that all of my family grew up there. I identify really strongly with that area.

AH: How do you say your last name?

LG: ˈjȯr(ˌ)jē-

AH: Italian?

LG: Yes. My dad’s family actually lives in a small borough outside of Reading called Temple. It’s populated by a lot of Italians whose ancestors are all from the same area in Italy, called Ascoli Piceno. The Italian community in this area is especially small and close.

AH: What is your home place’s defining characteristic? What is unique about this place?

LG: It’s an interesting area. It’s in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and it kind of has some of the Appalachian mountain culture, although it’s sort of at the northern end of Appalachia. The area where I grew up was, historically, mostly composed of farms. It’s also known for its Amish population; it’s the area where most of the country’s Amish originate.

Culturally, that makes it very distinct. The culture is referred to as “Pennsylvania German,” but if you’re actually from there, we call it “Pennsylvania Dutch.” That’s also the name of a dialect of German that’s spoken in Pennsylvania. The language is dying among the non-Amish communities, but there are elements of it in the English that we speak in that area. I grew up speaking this weird dialect of English that is, occasionally, incomprehensible to outsiders. We put our prepositional phrases in strange places and we use phrases that don’t make sense to others. I didn’t learn that until I went away to college in Boston University to study journalism; I didn’t know I used this dialect until people there pointed it out.

I identify really strongly with the mountains. Reading is in a confluence of different regions: farmland and Pennsylvania German culture and the mountains and former coal country. It was an interesting area to grow up, but I didn’t really know that until I moved away.

AH: What kind of writing excites you? What can’t you put down? What are you reading right now for you, your own aesthetic?

LG: I recently started writing poetry. I come from a journalism background, and so I’m more familiar with fiction and nonfiction. Fiction is what I was initially interested in when I came to ISU, and then nonfiction is what I’ve been writing, you know, career-wise.

And so I’ve been discovering a lot of contemporary poets. It’s been very exciting and rewarding.

In my poetry, I’ve been writing personal narratives and looking at science and the natural world; I’ve been trying to integrate this metaphorically in my poems. I’ve been getting a lot of recommendations about poetry. I just picked up Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith.

But I tend to read whatever I come across. When people recommend things, or I read something in a blog, I tend to pick that up. I am not a directed reader; I like to have things come to me. I collect books.

I just picked up The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I was trying to describe my thesis project to a friend, and she said, “You need to read this book,” and she loaned it to me, and so that’s what I’m currently reading. And this summer I moved into a new place and the former residents left behind a lot of their books, and so I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which was amazing and sad. She writes about her husband’s unexpected death, and kind of chronicles the process of grieving.

AH: For readers and those submitting to Flyway, what advice can you give? What do you look for in the pieces you publish in Flyway?

LG: Looking at the art submissions, I would say that we get a lot of nature photography, and I am not as excited about that as I am about an artist who does more of a unique take on the idea of environment or place or the interaction of people in nature or in a specific environment. We recently featured an artist named Elizabeth Castaldo, for example; she did these amazing mixed media pieces – she constructed collages using fashion magazines, photographs, and interpretations of cells and trees in watercolor. They were amazing, and beautiful, and colorful.

So I would encourage submitters to think more broadly about the definition of place or environment and how that could be reflected in the art that they’re doing. If you’re going to be submitting nature photography, that critical bar is going to be very high.

AH: How does the idea of place or environment factor in to that?

LG: I’m really intrigued by the idea of how humans interact with the environment and the relationship between humans the natural world, between people and the places that they live. And I think that that is where some of the most exciting work I’ve seen comes into play. An artist should examine that idea and find unique interpretations of that idea.

 AH: How do you define environment? How is that definition important to you?

LG: I think that’s a question that lends itself more easily to some of the other genres we publish than it does to the idea of visual art. Environment, in the context of art, can mean ecology (traditional environmentalism, the natural world), but it can also mean place, setting, or urban landscape. In fact, we’re always excited when we receive works of art that explore urban landscapes because it always tends to be interesting; it is very different from nature photography or nature writing, which could be of a more direct interpretation of our mission. Nature photography can be something that we’re interested in, but it needs to be more than a beautiful landscape. It needs to make an argument.

Being part of the MFA program in Creative Writing & Environment, and being part of Flyway, means we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can interpret environment in our own works. Because of this, I am always interested to see what other artists are doing in this same realm.