Being a Writer IRL: An Interview with Sarah Green
Last November, Chadron State College had the pleasure of hosting poet, Sarah Green for a workshop and readings from her books Skeleton Evenings and Earth Science. Despite having freshly arrived on campus from travelling, leading workshops, and meeting students and residents,she was still energetic and enthusiastic about talking shop with meon the realities of being a writer.
Ashy: As a writer with both an Master of Fine Arts and a Doctorate in creative writing, I am eager to learn what recommendations you have for studying writers considering post graduate education and career development.
Sarah: I would encourage beginning or evolving writers to research the many digital platforms available. If you have an author that really inspires you, you can see where that person has published, which places have supported them. Maybe that’s a good home for one’s work.
I earned my MFA a long time ago in 2005, at a time when you could still teach college with that. It wasn’t expected for creative writers to get PhDs because the idea was you were practicing your art and publishing your books. My MFA came along in the time that I was sort of evolving as a writer and a teacher.
What later appealed to me about the PhD in creative writing was that I knew that I wanted the depth of reading that it would bring. I wanted to be asked to rigorously engage with these text that I might not have the motivation to do in my living room. It can be helpful to have the structure of school!
I definitely recommend that students look for programs where the funding is really robust for graduate students, where there are fellowships, teaching assistantships, and other ways where you aren’t actually putting yourself into great debt to do it. Because we know that right now we’re living in a time where a PhdD certainly doesn’t guarantee you a job at all. The last thing you want is for people to be in great debt and be like ‘I thought a PhD was gonna get me something.’
I'd encourage students to not buy into some kind of purity of, ‘I’m less of an artist if I have a 9-5 job.’ I definitely worked as a copywriter in my twenties for a while. They just loved that I was a poet. To them it added this special spice to my writing and they could brag to their clients, ‘we have a poet on our staff!’ That was an asset to them. Teaching as a career does seem to be a smart choice for poets. It gives you the summers to write and a little bit of a flexible schedule. If you’re somebody that’s wired to edit, it makes so much sense for students to pursue careers in editing or chase into writing.
Ashy: In addition to being a writer, you’re also a very talented singer. My fellow editors and I listened to some of your music from your website. We were wondering if there were any similarities in your creative process from when you deal with music and when you write. How do they compare?
Sarah: I’ve noticed is that my poems tend to engage more with questions that I want to answer and think through. There’s always this curiosity that drives them. ‘What is that feeling? What’s that sound? Why do I care about this? Why am I interested in that color of that person’s coat in 1985?”
My songs are more basic, primal, and human, like a feeling that I need to express. I'll find a story to put it in, but it’s more about expression. The structure of the song kind of holds the expression.
In terms of the processes being similar, the songs have the form to start. You know what the container is, then you have these rules. I don’t tend to write closed form poems most of the time. I’m not writing villanelles often. Although I love form, my poems tend have a thing to say and then figure what form to go with. That’s the difference.
Ashy: It’s fascinating how your processes contrast. We also saw on your website that you participate in a lot of things besides your writing and singing to include lecturing, editing, and teaching. What drives you to do all those different things?
Sarah: I am lucky, I get invited. I got invited here! I get invited by friends who have a lot of interesting projects. I'm a person that likes to build community. And I'm pretty social as writers go. That community has led to all these opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
For example, I have an anthology coming out this year. There are about 85 writers in it and many of the writers I solicited to be in the book were people that I met in this kind of setting. People I'd encountered as visiting writers or judges for contests reached out to me and wrote kind words about my submissions. I saved all those emails. When I was editing this anthology and soliciting work, I was shameless and reached out to anyone of stature that had ever let me have their email address. You don’t have to be creepy, strategic, or manipulative to network in that way. Authors like hearing from readers. That can create natural relationships without it feeling like somebody’s just trying to get something. You find the literary mags that match your sensibility and these relationships happen naturally because people gravitate towards artists whose values line up with theirs.
Ashy: Tell us more about this anthology you’re putting out with the strength of your community of artists.
Sarah: The anthology, called Welcome to the Neighborhood, comes out December 10, 2019 with Ohio University Press. This is my first time working with a university press and I’m really excited because it has more reach. Its’ going to be distributed by the University of Chicago which is able to get the book into a lot of bookstores. It’s a collection of ficiton, poetry, and essays all about the experience of living among other people and being in a neighborhood, and all the good and the bad of that through the lens of literature. The most exciting part is how happy the authors are. They’re so pleased to be in it. They really believe in the mission of the book. It’s really fun to be creating something that people are so passionate about.
Ashy: Do you have any parting advice for all the writers out there?
Sarah: Maybe the best advice is that I'm kind of a recovering perfectionist and you really can’t be a perfectionist and juggle the many aspects of writing and life. It’s just impossible, you’ll make yourself sick. It’s important to have a healthy relationship to knowing you can be cyclically achieving. Somethings are gonna take a back burner and it has to be ok for somethings to lag and slack. There’s more of a risk to me in that burnout time when you really can’t keep it together. That’s far worse of an outcome than the many versions where you just let certain things go along the way, but your’e still sustaining yourself. We want sustainability.
Ashy: Thank you so much for speaking with me and Tenth Street Miscellany! Sarah: Of course, thank you!