Interview with Alison McGhee


_Alison McGhee’s first novel,_ Rainlight, _won the 1999 Minnesota Book Award and numerous other kudos. In 2001, her second novel,_ Shadow Baby, _again won the Minnesota Book Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Literature. Her third novel,_ Was It Beautiful?, _was published in 2003, and she has also published children’s books, including_ Countdown to Kindergarten, Snap, Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, Some Witches Like Sprinkles, _and her first young adult novel,_ All Rivers Flow To The Sea. _McGhee teaches creative writing at Metropolitan State University, where she is the coordinator of the creative writing program._

*Was there a defining experience in your life that made you realize you wanted to write?*
When I was 4 or 5, I wanted to be an actor. Then a singer/songwriter. Then a dancer. When I learned how to print, I wanted to be a writer. In retrospect, what I wanted was to be an artist—to experience life in that transformative way. Life is too overwhelming to me simply to live it. I can’t handle all the pain and all the beauty without taking those emotions and somehow giving them form. Placing pattern to chaos is what art feels like to me, a way both to deepen and illuminate experience.

*What have you been working on lately that you’re most excited about?*
A friend and I have been collaborating on a series of books for young readers. I’ve never written anything in collaboration with someone else, and the experience is new and thrilling.

*Which local writers are you keeping an eye on?*
I always read Brad Zellar’s Yo Ivanhoe blog in The Rake. Emily Carter’s essays are always worth a look. And I’m keeping my eye on someone named Joel Gray, who has yet to publish much but who’s hilarious and very talented.

*What recent book or books have you been recommending to your friends?*
My favorite book of the past year was a novel called _Gilead_, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s a slow, meditative read, and I savored every sentence. That novel reads as if the writer had been building up to it her entire life. This is a beautiful book, a book for the ages.

*What literary trend most encourages/discourages you?*
I’m both encouraged and discouraged by personal blogging. Most blogs strike me as way too chatty, way Too Much Information, and boring. But some are so interesting, written with such a laser eye and a fresh take on the world.
I’m also encouraged by the explosion in online mags. Sometimes I sit and drift around the Web, Googling my way from one site to another. I love that the Web gives potentially anyone a voice. I get tired of what I think of as the ennui present in so much contemporary fiction, particularly short stories. We need more carpenter poems, more waitress memoirs, more welder essays. You know how when you get blood drawn, they wrap that rubber thingie around your upper arm, and you make a fist, and then they pop the needle into that bulging vein and the blood leaps into the bottle? Writing should feel like that: visceral, life-giving, life-threatening.

*What projects do you have planned for the future?*
I’m currently re-writing Falling Boy, a novel that comes out next summer. That one began when the image of a teenage boy sitting in a wheelchair appeared to me. He looked at me with these flat dark eyes and said, “What the f—? You can’t write about me?” I didn’t want to write about him, but I had no choice. I’ve been working on that book for a year and a half now, and simultaneously revising three picture books.
Shimmering on the horizon, the way new projects always shimmer on the horizon, is a book of comic essays based on my family and hometown. Sedaris-like stuff, purely for fun.

_You can read Alison’s essay, “Living Across Genres: The Work of the Artist Teacher,” on her Web site, She will be reading from her young adult novel_ All Rivers Flow To The Sea _at Magers & Quinn on Thursday, November 10._