Journal of Writing & Environment

Web Rove: What Say the Writers Behind the Writings?

Kelly Slivka

Every writer has at least two voices. There’s the voice a writer uses to weave words—you could call this the narrative voice. And there’s a primary voice, a day-to-day voice you could call the personal voice, the voice a writer uses to state her opinions, to relate an event. It’s the voice you use when you’re simply being yourself.

While I’d imagine we both agree that there’s a lot to be gained from consuming the narrative words of writers—novels, essays, poems, articles—it’s also important to consume the words of the second voice. This personal voice, the writer’s own voice, can teach you about how writers are formed, why they write like they do, and what they think about the current state of literature and where it’s heading. It can help you interpret the narrative voice and help you better understand the community of real people to whom narratives are meaningful.

In honor of writers’ personal voices, the following is a collection of recent interviews and opinion pieces in which writers use their own voices to talk about themselves, their work and writing in general.

Is It Harder to Write About Happiness Than Its Opposite?
By Leslie Jamison and Adam Kirsch, The New York Times’ Book Review

In this article from The New York Times’ Book Review, novelist Leslie Jamison and poet Adam Kirsch offer their opinions on the value of happiness in story telling. Relying on Anna Karenina for her examples, part of Jamison’s argument is that happiness is most valuable in stories when it’s contrasting sadness: “Happiness works as prelude to sadness, or epilogue—as long as we feel its footage marred or distorted by the lurking horizon of its own absence.” Both writers admit that the literature scene has a bias toward the depressing, though, and think this bias may not be justified.

Turning Out the Lights Just Isn’t Going to Do It: An Interview With Environmental Writer Elizabeth Kolbert
By Donna Seaman, Creative Nonfiction

The Spring 2014 issue of Creative Nonfiction features an author interview with Elizabeth Kolbert, epic journalist for The New York Times, Newsweek, and The New Yorker. Kolbert’s second book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, has recently hit the shelves, and we’ll be proud to host her at Iowa State University, home of Flyway, for a lecture this week. In her Creative Nonfiction interview, Kolbert talks about her youth, her development as a journalist, and her burgeoning preoccupation with climate change.

How To Widen Your Vision
By Dinew Mengestu, The Atlantic

The Atlantic runs a series of essays called “By Heart,” wherein writers talk about passages they’ve read that have especially stuck with them and inspired them. In this essay, Dinew Mengestu, an Ethiopian-American novelist and journalist who is well-recognized as a preeminent rising star in letters, discusses his connection to Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North. “The story,” writes Mengestu, “set in a recently independent Sudan, with footprints in England and Egypt, mocks and eviscerates the clichés that come with looking at the world as a division between us and the Other.”

Half Falling, Half In Flight: A Conversation With Marc Neely
By Eric Higgins, AGNI Online

AGNI Online is running an “Emerging Poets Interview Series.” This particular interview with poet Marc Neely is a fascinating investigation of Neely’s process – the interview really gets under the hood, if you will. Neely discusses why he chose the particular layout and arrangement of his first book, Beasts of the Hill, how a few of the poems developed, and what drives him to write the way he does. “I love the ‘mathematical’ aspects of poetry. Form is where the poem begins for me,” says Neely. Higgins includes clips of Neely’s poems in the interview and walks slowly through them with the author.