Christopher Chambers

recorded in New Orleans, LA

 

Christopher Chambers

My name is Christopher Chambers, I live in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ve been here since 1999. I moved here from Tuscaloosa, Alabama where I attended graduate school at the University of Alabama. I’m originally from Madison, Wisconsin.


The Knox Writers’ House

That’s quite the jump.


Chambers

Well, I live a block and a half from the Mississippi River right now, and spent a number of years in Minneapolis not far from the Mississippi river up at that end, so it’s something I think about. I walk my dog along the levy every morning. Same river, other end.


KWH

What did you do in Minneapolis?


Chambers

I moved to Minneapolis after I finished college and lived there almost ten years. I did a variety of things but worked mostly in the construction business, worked as a carpenter, bartended a little bit.


KWH

When we were in the Twin Cities, we heard it has the most well funded arts in America.


Chambers

That doesn’t surprise me. I loved it up there. There’s a lot to do culturally there, but once I left, once I moved south, I couldn’t go back, because of the weather.


KWH

Do you consider yourself part of a writing community here in New Orleans?


Chambers

Oh, definitely. There’s a real vibrant community here. New Orleans is not a big place, it’s more of a big town than a small city, so once you’ve been here for any length of time, you know just about everyone, it seems like, so among writers and among artists and musicians there’s a real sense of community. And then within those communities, there are smaller groups.


KWH

So what does that mean for you? Do you work with other writers or go to readings or give readings or submit to local journals?


Chambers

I edit the New Orleans Review, a literary magazine published at Loyola University here, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of writers through my editing duties. There are also a number of good reading series here in town, which are good opportunities to hear new writers and see what people are up to.


KWH

Were you writing when you were up north?


Chambers

Not a lot. I think I knew I wanted to write, I did a little bit of scribbling in notebooks at the end of the day but I started getting serious about writing in Minneapolis. I started taking classes at The Loft. I haven’t been up there, I hear they have a nice new facility, but at that time, they were in an old elementary school building, and they did community writing courses. I was doing construction work and started taking fiction classes in the evening and I went through three years, their beginning, intermediate, and advanced. And it was someone in one of those classes that was looking at MFA programs, which, I’d never even heard of an MFA program at that point, and I thought, “Well, that sounds interesting,” so I started looking into that as well and ended up in Alabama.


KWH

Do you think your move to the South affected your writing, changed it?


Chambers

I think place necessarily affects your writing. I imagine I’m a very different writer now than I would have been if I’d stayed in the Midwest or if I’d moved to a different part of the country. For me, it was a conscious decision to go south, initially, for graduate school. For one thing I wanted to go someplace warmer. I also felt it would be good for my writing and just a good experience to live in a different part of the country, in a place with a different culture, a different climate. And I felt particular drawn to the South, largely because of the Southern literary tradition and the great writers that have come from this part of the country.


KWH

Do you think there’s a contemporary Southern voice? Would you include yourself in it?


Chambers

I don’t think there’s a single contemporary Southern voice. I think that place informs writing in a number of different ways, certainly the most obvious is in terms of setting. Stories, fiction or nonfiction, poetry makes use of place as setting. I don’t know if I feel comfortable calling myself a Southern writer [laughs], for a couple reasons. One is that I had a great five years in Alabama and met some wonderful people and I have a lot of affection for the place and the people there, but it was always very clear to me that I could spend the rest of my life in Alabama, but I would still be a damn Yankee. One of my good friends up there explained to me that a Yankee is someone who comes down to the South from up North, and damn Yankee is one who comes down and stays. And he said that with a smile, but… The other reason I’m not sure I would consider myself a southern writer is New Orleans feels very different to me from the deep South. This is not Mississippi or Alabama or Georgia. New Orleans is a place unto itself. And I feel, even now, after being here over ten years, something like an expatriate. And I think that’s maybe a good thing for a writer.


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