Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jennifer Wortman

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Jennifer Wortmann

Jennifer Wortman

is the author of the story collection This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love (Split Lip Press, 2019). Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in TriQuarterly, Glimmer Train, Normal School, Brevity, DIAGRAM, Juked, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Colorado, where she serves as associate fiction editor for Colorado Review and teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

website: jenniferwortman.com. Twitter: @wrefinnej.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I write a little poetry, but I mostly write fiction. In both cases, what inspired me to write was reading so many books I loved. I wanted to make other people feel the way those books made me feel, and think the way they made me think.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mom read to me a lot, including lots of Dr. Seuss, especially Hop on Pop, and my dad loved reading me Hands, Hands, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins, all books full of wonderful rhythms and rhymes. That was my first introduction to the joys of language.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

When I was younger, I was very aware of the dominating presence of older writers. I idealized them and wanted to be like them. I’ve learned a ton from them but they have less mythic power over me now.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It’s been extra busy, so my routine has fallen apart; I mainly write in little spurts when I can. During more stable times, I prefer to write in the morning before I start my other work. I will focus on my main project then, and later in the day, I might dip into other pieces or do something more left-brained like line-editing. Sometimes I play with poetry and weird prose or explore places I’m stuck before I go to sleep. If I’m lucky, my unconscious mind will work its magic and I’ll wake up with breakthroughs.

5. What motivates you to write?

When I don’t write, I feel useless and sad.

6. What is your work ethic?

My work ethic is to make my writing as good as I possibly can without losing sight of my well-being and other important things in life.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

That’s hard to say. Our influences, I think, are largely unconscious, whether we like it or not. But I’ve always been attracted to voice-driven narratives with a psychological or philosophical bent: writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, Alice Adams, Ford Madox Ford, and Iris Murdoch had a big appeal to me when I was younger, and their sensibilities may show up in my writing.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Too many to name but I’ll say a few: Megan Giddings writes daring, astonishing prose, and supports other writers through her work as an editor of The Offing and the Forward writers-of-color flash-fiction anthology. Her chapbook Arcade Seventeen is brilliant and I can’t wait for her novel that’s coming out next year, Lakewood. Heather/Heathen Derr-Smith combines poetry and activism in a beautiful and necessary way: I was deeply inspired by her project of reading poems of protest by multiple writers down at the Texas border through the nonprofit she founded, Čuvaj Se. Other writers I admire include Maggie Nelson, for her ingenious mix of high intellect and emotional rawness; Jericho Brown, for his precision and fire; and John Edgar Wideman, who has been combining the visceral and cerebral and lyrical to stunning effect for decades.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

At times in my life I’ve dabbled in other art forms, especially music, but writing has the biggest appeal to me because it combines intellect and emotion so well: I get to use all of myself when I write. Being an introvert, I also appreciate the solitary aspects of writing.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read a lot and write a lot, in that order. Find a community, big or small, and get trusted feedback on your work. Revise, revise, revise. If you decide to submit work for publication, expect rejection and don’t let it throw you: persistence is key.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m working on a novel-in-stories about a middle-aged mother of two whose husband has died: she has ambiguously paranormal experiences and sleeps around a fair amount—that’s pretty much the plot! I’m also putting together a couple chapbooks: one of flash fiction and another I’m envisioning as a semi-evasive memoir in poetry and prose.

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