Each year, Flyway hosts the Home Voices contest—an in-house contest open to all the MFA candidates at Iowa State University’s program for Creative Writing and the Environment. In this interview, Flyway talks with last year’s 2010 Home Voices Contest Winner, Melissa Lamberton.
Refresh our memories: what piece did you submit to last year’s Home Voices contest?
I sent a short nonfiction essay called “Tracing the Creek Home.” The backbone of the story is a walk through [Iowa’s] Bluff Creek, and I weave in memories of water from my hometown in Tucson, Arizona. In the story I’m thinking about displacement and loss but also being very present in place – quietly aware and attuned to the unfamiliar world around me.
You won the award in your first year at ISU’s MFA program. That’s pretty impressive. What caught your attention about ISU’s MFA program?
I never intended to apply for an MFA program – my background is in science – but the focus on the environment caught my attention. I liked the idea of doing writing that would be relevant to the world – writing that would become a record, an elegy, maybe a catalyst for change.
Where were you before you came to ISU?
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona and attended the University of Arizona as an undergraduate. I had a double major in environmental science and creative writing.
Since you came to ISU to pursuit an MFA, how do you see your taste and writing style changing or developing?
Landscape has always been important in my work, but I suppose now that I live in a wet, green place I have the ability to compare and contrast, to sharpen my vision of deserts, mountains, home. I’ve also gained access to a whole host of images that I never used before – autumn leaves changing color, falling snow, summer thunderstorms flickering on the flat prairie horizon.
How do you see place and the environment affecting your daily life and your writing?
I fell into writing about place because I love science. As a kid I wanted to be a geologist – still do, actually! I like knowing what sort of bedrock I’m standing on, how the soils were formed. I grew up in the basin-and-range region of southern Arizona, and something about the landscape’s contours – islands of mountains in bright, broad plains – really influenced the way I write. I spent a lot of summers hiking and camping in those mountains. I’m always interested in the history of a landscape, the way it shapes the plants, animals and people that call it home.
Any plans for your thesis yet?
I’m working on a nonfiction book about rivers in the Southwest. I’m interested in how humans, faced with arid landscapes, tend to invent water where none exists. Early explorers simply drew mythical rivers on maps, but now we actually engineer them into reality by building dams and canals. I think we lose something vital with this mindset – we forget that the desert, in all its marvelous complexity, was shaped by the absence of water.
What advice would you give to those interested in applying to Iowa State’s MFA program?
Come visit us if you can. We’ll have one of our famous potlucks and you can get a sense of what our writing community is like.