Rebecca McClanahan’s tenth book is The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change. She has also published five books of poetry, three books of writing instruction, and The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings, winner of the Glasgow Award in nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Sun, and numerous anthologies. Recipient of the Wood Prize from Poetry Magazine, a Pushcart Prize, the Carter Prize for the Essay, and literary fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council, McClanahan teaches in the MFA programs of Queens University and Rainier Writing Workshop, and has been appointed the 2015 Writer-in-Residence at Hollins University.
Rebecca will lead a workshop at the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference titled, "Making Their Stories Your Own." Whether you’ve inherited boxes of letters, photos, and documents, or only a few stories passed down to you, this multi-genre workshop will help you begin to shape the raw material of family history into an engaging and artful text. Drawing on her experience in writing essays, poems, and, most recently, The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change, Rebecca McClanahan discusses the challenges and rewards of family history writing and offers suggestions for the journey. Specific topics include selecting and arranging significant details, fleshing out characters, providing historical or cultural context, employing speculation and reflection, choosing the best structure, and discovering themes and patterns of meaning.
What are you reading right now?
Adrianne Harun's new novel; Fleda Brown's book of poems, No Need of Sympathy; rereading Tillie Olsen's Silences and Edward Hoagland's essay collection, The Courage of Turtles.
Where is your favorite place to write?
My own desk, facing away from the window so I'm not distracted.
If you weren't a writer, what kind of job would you like to have?
Back-up singer for gospel and/or blues group.
Who has influenced your writing style the most?
I have no idea. You'll have to ask my readers.
If you could switch places with one fictional character, who would it be?
E. B. White's spider, Charlotte A. Cavatica. She spins beautiful webs, helps save her friend's life, and leaves her "magnum opus," generations of spiderlings (one of which is named Joy) who will carry on her work after her death.
What do you hope attendees take away from Fall Conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
Whatever will challenge them to move to a new place in their work.
Charlotte is known as both "The Queen City" and "The Hornet's Nest." Does one of those nicknames ring more true for you than the other?
Though I know the origin of both, I've always thought it strange to give cities nicknames they'll likely outgrow.
Sunday's Workshop Session IV panel discussion is titled, "The Many Paths to Publication." What's the first thing you ever published?
An essay I wrote in the eighth grade for a contest sponsored by the WCTU, in which I made an admirable case against alcohol, which I had not yet tasted. I was paid fifteen dollars. Had I saved the money, I could have ordered a glass of lovely single-malt scotch last week. Oh well.
Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
I'll pass on this one and just hope the critics can read my mind.
What is the most frustrating or rewarding part of the writing process?
Finding the center in the midst of all the havoc that first drafts create. The process is frustrating and rewarding, all at the same time.
What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Publication doesn't change your life; writing does.
If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
The Oxford English Dictionary, or whatever dictionary best suits the reader's native language.
Describe your ideal literary festival. Who would give the keynote address? Who would be the featured readers? What else?
As for featured readers, there are too many fabulous writers for me to choose from; I'll leave that to the event organizers. But I would definitely vote for a dance—with a great band or DJ and a roomy dance floor.
Do you steal hotel pens?
I prefer to think of it as providing free advertisement for the hotels.
Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference opens Wednesday, September 3, at www.ncwriters.org.