Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum is teaching a class, “Revising the Novel” at Richard Hugo House this spring. She took some time to answer some questions for us.
What is the title of your class?
People should take this class because?
Because misery loves company? No, no, no. Because, as everyone knows, first drafts are monstrously ugly creatures, tamed and beautified only through hard work and skill. And we’re going to learn those skills and do that work here. Together. With gusto. And it’ll be fun.
Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?
What are you reading right now?
I’m a dabbler, so I have a stack of books at the bedside that I’m reading in fits and starts, among them Alice Munro’s Dear Life, Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Tessa Hadley’s Married Love and Other Stories, Greg Spatz’s Inukshuk, Dan Gerber’s poetry collection A Primer on Parallel Lives, and Stephen King’s On Writing.
What excites you about the material you’re teaching?
I’m in the trenches with it myself right now, making my way through the fourth revision of my own novel, and so, while revision is nothing new to me, I also feel like there’s still so much to discover about the process. In the class we’ll be reading, workshopping, doing exercises to practice technique, and plunging into the details together. It’s guaranteed to be a productive six weeks.
What do you like best about teaching at Hugo House?
I love that, though I’m new to Hugo House, it already feels like home. When I walk through the doors to teach on Saturday mornings, there are always cheerful faces waiting to greet me, to welcome me back. I love the spirit of camaraderie I feel there—something rare in the often competitive world of writing. Everyone seems genuinely collegial, and there’s a wonderfully present sense that we’re all working for the common good of making relevant, beautiful writing. I love that there’s always something new and exciting going on. And I love that, invariably, when I leave the Hugo House I want to go write.
What book(s) made you want to write?
I don’t remember the first book that made me want to write–something from early childhood, because that’s how long I’ve been making stories. But since then there have been many. As I type this I’m thinking of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. That book changed the way I thought about writing and what really good writing could accomplish. I have long loved Alice Munro’s stories, and Anthony Doerr’s latest collection is a recent favorite. Every year I re-read Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and I also go back again and again to The Great Gatsby, so I have to include those in this list … I could go on. I think the mark of any truly good book is that it makes you want to write, and there are a lot of good books out there.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My graduate school professor Lynn Freed used to scare us all in workshop by looking at us sternly and saying, “You can do whatever you want on the page, just get it right.” That advice terrified me, but it was good. The only thing to do is get it right.
If you could have coffee with any author living or dead, who would it be?
The truth is that whenever I’ve met authors whose work I really admire, I’ve turned into a tongue-tied fool. (It’s horrible and embarrassing. I might have a whole conversation planned in my mind, but the moment I open my mouth I turn into a smitten teenager. I flush and forget words and go stupid with adoration.) So I think I’d rather not have coffee with any of them. Maybe I could just send them all nice long letters and have my coffee with their books instead?
What’s your favorite book? If you could pair it with a glass of wine or a pint of beer, what would you choose?
I’m going back to Cather for this. I think My Antonia with a dark, earthy porter would be just about perfect.