What is the title of your class?
Crossing the Danger Water: Poetry, Fiction, and Voice
People should take this class because?
For people actively writing fiction, whether or not you’ve written poetry. This half-day class will help you use the power of poetry to discover more about your characters’ voices, their themes, and their concerns. You will come away with at least two poems and a heightened sensitivity to your own voice.
Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?
I’m on Twitter: @eileen_gunn
I have a regular Facebook page: www.facebook.com/eileengunn. Send a friend request and mention Hugo House, and I’ll friend you. My Facebook author page, however, is in sad disarray. It seems to have been generated by elves from my Wikipedia entry.
What are you reading right now?
- Dessa Rose, by Sherley Anne Williams
- Tenth of December, by George Saunders
- Permeable Borders, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
- The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, by Andy Duncan
- The Chaneysville Incident, by David Bradley
- Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, by Eric Lott
Plus a lot of Mark Twain and a lot of books on the Underground Railroad and Black history and gay cowboys
What excites you about the material you’re teaching?
It excites me to work with JT Stewart, who is a compelling teacher and an incredible poet. Every time I do this workshop, the attendees surprise and delight me with the work they do and the depth and honesty with which they are willing to discuss it. And I usually come out of it with a new poem of my own that relates to something I’m working on.
What do you like best about teaching at Hugo House?
The writers, whether they are leading a class or participating in it. It’s a community of writers.
What book(s) made you want to write?
I was a writer before I could read. My mother wrote down my poems until I could write them down myself. My parents were artists, and I was raised to be the writer in the family. I was a compulsive reader by the time I was in the first grade: I read everything, all the time. I fell in love with Peter Pan at age seven, and I still think that to die will be a very big adventure. I memorized the poems in Alice in Wonderland at age eight. I read to my younger siblings: the sound of words and the flow of sentences were important to me at an early age.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
William Gibson told me the secret of writing, about 25 years ago. “We have to talk,” he said. “I’ve discovered the secret of writing.”
We sat down, had a beer, and chatted about everything but writing. Someone came and dragged him off to speak— we were at a convention—and that was that, I thought. Another novel Gibsonian conversational hook.
Two weeks later, I was at home in Seattle and the phone rang. It was Gibson. “I forgot to tell you the secret of writing,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll bite. What’s the secret of writing?”
He held a brief pause. Then he said, slowly and carefully, “You must learn to overcome your very natural, and appropriate, revulsion for your own work.”
Works for me.
If you could have coffee with any author living or dead, who would it be?
Well, William Gibson, for one, is always a fascinating conversationalist. But I suppose you mean someone who could meet me for coffee only in my dreams. My dream coffee date would have to be with Oscar Wilde, who could hold anyone spellbound with his personal charm and the wit and intelligence of his conversation, from London litterateurs to Colorado gold miners.
What’s your favorite book? If you could pair it with a glass of wine or a pint of beer, what would you choose?
My all-time favorite would be J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens: Retold for Little People by May Byron, but that would have to be served with hot cocoa and biscuits.
For something to be served with alcohol, I’d choose Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley in Peace and War, accompanied by a pint of Guinness.