Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jessica Treadway: A writer of everyday people and everything human: Interview with Doug Holder

Jessica Treadway:  A writer of everyday people and everything human

Interview with Doug Holder

  Jessica Treadway is not a writer whose main concern is the mere trappings of everyday life. She goes to the marrow of what makes us human. And that means the flaws, the pockmarks, how we delude ourselves and how we love in spite of it all. Treadway, is an unpretentious woman, with an open face and an engaging smile.  But don't be fooled; this is an accomplished writer with an impressive resume. She currently is a Professor at Emerson College in Boston, and has recently released a collection of short stories  Please Come Back To Me.Treadway has a number of books to her credit and her work has appeared in top shelf publications like: Plougshares, AGNI, Best American Short Stories, etc... She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was on the Board of Directors of PEN-New England. I had the good fortune to talk with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show  " Poet to Poet: writer to Writer."

Doug Holder
: You grew up in Albany, New York, the home of the famed novelist William Kennedy. Do you use the less than cosmopolitan burg of Albany, N.Y. as a focal point for your work like Kennedy does?

Jessica Treadway: I really  don't use the city itself, but upstate New York in general. My sensibilities are probably that of an upstate N.Y. girl. I have quite a few stories in fictional towns around Buffalo, N.Y.  Joyce Carol Oates as well as Richard Russo have also been influenced by and have written about upstate New York-like settings.

DH: What is the upstate New York frame of mind?

JT: Winter comes to mind. (laugh) You don't realize until your work is collected and even after that you have a certain focus in the body of your work.. It usually takes a reader to point out the similarities in some of your stories. A lot of my stories are set in the winter, but there are some beautiful summers in my work. The landscape is bleak in the winter but a stunning backdrop in the summer.

DH: In the title novella in your new collection  Please Come Back to Me a vision of a deceased woman's husband appears in front of her and prevents her from having a tragic accident. Are ghosts a good literary device. Have you ever seen one?

JT: I don't think I have ever experienced a ghost. I believe I wrote that in a certain way so that the person who saw the apparition believed it was the deceased man. I hope I left it open to the fact that this was just what she saw and not an actual presence. The story tries to deal with living people's  experience of seeking communication after death. A ghost or anything used as a literary device can be used if it is employed well. I would say a writer should try everything.

DH: In your short story "The Nurse and the Black Lagoon" a woman tries to understand why her teenage son has been accused of a disturbing crime. She creates this whole story to convince herself that her son is normal. We all create myths of sort to get by in life, to bring order to the chaotic nature of existence. Do you think the mother was heroic in her efforts to keep herself together?

JT: I think one of the main  themes in my work is willful blindness, and what the repercussions and ramification will be. The woman in the story you referenced knows the truth and ignores it--or goes to a layer close to the surface and tries to arrange things the way she likes it. It's not particularly admirable. I think the character is weak but not evil.

DH: You are not a mother yourself, but you write about mothers often enough.

JT: Some of my greatest gratification comes from mothers who ask me:" How do you know what this mother character would say or do.?" To be a good writer you have to have empathy and imagination. Just because you are a good mother--doesn't mean you can write well about it.

: You teach writing at Emerson College in Boston. What is the best way to teach writing?

JT: Instead of offering opinions, ( although I do of course)  I try to ask questions. I find this more effective than harsh criticism, etc...

DH You started out as a journalist. how important was this for your maturation as a writer?

JT: I only did it for a few years. It makes you learn that how to select the details that are relevant. I wrote for a wire service. They kept to a strict word limit. I learned to write concisely and fast

DH: I have always believed in the importance of community in the writer's life. You have belonged to writer's groups in the past. What role did they play?

: I was in a group of four women writers including Debra Spark who got together to discuss our work. That played an important role. The group that played the most important role was a group I was in for 10 years with Andre Dubus. It met in his house in Haverhill, Mass. I joined because I loved his work. My first book that came out was partly written in that group. And having the support of fellow writers like Elizabeth Searle, Debra Spark and others over the years was a great help.

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