Wendy Rawlings

recorded in Tuscaloosa, AL

 

Wendy Rawlings

My name is Wendy Rawlings and I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Which is in the western part of the state.


The Knox Writers’ House

How did you get here?


Rawlings

I got here via first New York, then I went to graduate school in Colorado, and then further west to Utah. I did a PhD in creative writing at the University of Utah. And I was told I would never get a job as a creative writer and I got, somehow, seven inch reviews at the national conference. I think they liked me because I published all these stories in little magazines, but then, for a very brief and happy period of my life, Mike Curtis at the Atlantic Monthly decided that he dug me. I won a contest, a fiction contest, one of those student writing contests and I was only second place, but he wanted to publish the story. And gave me 3000 dollars for it that allowed me to buy a mattress for the first time in my life.  [Laughs.] I think it was the fact that I had those two stories in The Atlantic got people. People are, what’s the word? They follow the herd, I guess. People saw that and were like, “Oh! I’ll interview her!” And I got the job down here, and it was a great MFA program and I don’t have a huge teaching load. So I got here ten years ago and I’ve been here ever since.


KWH

The piece you read in a round a bout way speaks of consumerism.


Rawlings

Yes


KWH

How do you approach the political in your work?


Rawlings

As I’ve started writing as an adult, a big turning point for me was when my mother came out at 50. It really split my family. First my parents got divorced, of course, and my sister, who’s quit conservative, didn’t speak to my mother for a long time. And there’s just four of us. And I began to write about that. My first book has a lot of stories, it has a story called Heteroworld in which I’m trying to work out some of these issues. It’s one thing to say, “I’m all for gay rights,” but if your mom’s gay, you really have to face up to it, like, “Is this repugnant to me? If it’s not repugnant to me that my best friend is gay, why is it repugnant to me that my mother is gay?” And I’ve done a fair amount of work. My mother had me go to one of her GLAD meetings. And when I came out with the novel, which very much has that at the center of it, I said it was a semi-autobiographical novel. My parents fid not want to talk about how they split up, my mother didn’t want to talk about when she found out she was gay. [Laughs.] I would try this stuff with her, and she’d just say, “Oh, I don’t know. I like men and women. I don’t identify one way or the other.” But they have the rainbow sticker on the back of their car, and she’s been with her partner for 16 years now, who my sister hates so much that they don’t speak. So I try to take up those issues. And I don’t want to do it in a preachy way. And the consumerism thing, that’s something else that concerns me, and I wanted to take it up in a kind of lighthearted way. I don’t write a whole lot because I only want to write about something when it’s really important to me and when I really feel like I have something to say. People who just churn it out because they dig writing… I’m all for writing, but I think you shouldn’t publish everything. You don’t always have something to say.


KWH

Who are you writing for?


Rawlings

I’m writing for other people like me who go to writing like I went to Joan Didion when I read The White Album. She’s got an essay called Sentimental Education. She’s an amazing nonfiction writer. Sentimental Education is particularly about Tawana Brawley, a woman who was raped in New York City by men who were wilding and she goes and investigates real and imagined accounts of women being raped in New York and thinks about what New York is—she thinks about a lot of things. I wrote this essay about agnosticism that I read a little piece of. I’m hoping somebody can sit down and read something and think, “Now my life is a little bit different.” And that’s a high goal, and usually I fail at it. I just read Franzen’s Freedom, and I thought, “Why the fuck did I spend 585 pages reading this book about these kind of craven people? Why was in in that sensibility when I could have been reading—I could have rereading Didion, for God’s sake.

Light Years by James Salter

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