Kathryn Wilder is the author of the memoir Desert Chrome: Water, a Woman, and Wild Horses in the West (Torrey House Press, May 2021),
Kirkus Reviews calls it “a spirited and impassioned chronicle.” Wilder’s essays have been cited in Best American Essays and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. They have appeared in such publications as High Desert Journal, River Teeth, Midway Journal, Fourth Genre, and Sierra, and in many anthologies and Hawai`i magazines. A graduate of the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, she was a 2016 Artist-in-Residence at Denali National Park and Preserve finalist for the 2016 and 2019 Ellen Meloy Fund Desert Writers Award and 2018 finalist for the Waterston Desert Writing Prize. She lives among mustangs in southwestern Colorado, where she ranches with her family in the Dolores River watershed.
“Testimony to the healing power of wildness . . . a candid memoir that interweaves a trajectory of loss, pain, and hard-won serenity with a paean to wild horses.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS
“‘Blame it or praise it,’ Virginia Woolf writes, ‘there is no denying the wild horse in us.’ Desert Chrome is the story of a landscape and the many ways the land sings us into being. It is the story of one of our most iconic North American species, Equus caballus, the wild horse. And, most of all, it is the story of a woman coming to know her own wildness—a wildness that is free, and sustaining, and on her own terms.”
—JOE WILKINS, author of Fall Back Down When I Die and The Mountain and the Fathers
Do you write in more than one genre? I write fiction and nonfiction yet publish mostly literary nonfiction (apparently, my fiction needs work). Occasionally a poem slips out—one in about every ten years.
Tell us about your writing process: I write first by hand, usually outside unless it’s too cold, sitting on a rock or the rowing seat of a raft, or in a camp chair on the cabin porch. Those journal entries, where I’m just recording what’s going on around me or writing a scene of fiction that’s wanting out, will be fresh and raw and unfiltered, like rainwater rushing over the edge of the cliff into the creek. I don’t have to finish those entries for them to be the first draft of something—because of whatever details I put in, I can go back, reread, and reconstruct where I was and what I was feeling enough to write more. I can feel the rain, hear it collecting, pushing, splashing; I can smell it; it becomes a thing, a subject, and a story gathers around it…as long as I have enough scribbled details
When I transcribe that material onto the computer, I make changes, add details, clean up wrong sentences, and start to see structure, which becomes the second draft. From that point, it’s a process of braiding: printing out a hard copy and again sitting outside if possible to edit and rewrite; taking those changes back to the computer; editing for a while there; and printing out and making notes on hard copy, etc. It might be ten or fifteen drafts before anyone else sees it.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Perhaps the most challenging parts are prioritizing and dealing with distractions. I read once, back when my kids were small, about a mother setting up the playpen and climbing inside with her typewriter, typing away while her kids played around her. I thought that was brilliant! Today, when I’m at the ranch headquarters, my son and his family in their own house on the same property, interruptions are constant—my sisters and mother will tell you that I cannot get through a single phone call without an interruption of some sort. It might be grandkids wanting to show me something (I am not complaining!), or cattle are out somewhere, and I have to jump up, pull on my boots, and race around afoot or in the side-by-side chasing cows; or it’s simply, suddenly, chore time. This happens whether I’m on a phone call or deep into revision.
I have found that I recover from interruption more easily during some parts of revision than in other parts. The final proofreading of Desert Chrome was interrupted constantly, but since I was reading carefully line by line and not needing to hold a whole concept or scene in my head, I could mark my place and return to it without stress (errors do occur in the book, however, which I may have found with better concentration).
For some of the revision, I had to go into isolation—days at the cabin alone. And I love those times, the creek, black bears, dogs, and mustangs my company. I understand now why going to a writer’s retreat is so desired!
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I would tell my freshman comp students to outline after they had a first draft. Fresh from high school, they would look at me, confused, and I would say, how do you know what you want to write if you haven’t started writing? And then I’d say, shit-can the five-paragraph essay. Stop thinking. Start writing. When you have even as few as a couple of pages, we can look at what’s coming out and see if there’s an outline to be found. This paralyzed many of them.
I don’t think I’ve outlined anything since I was required to do so in high school, and I’m guessing I did it after that first draft, which was probably considered cheating at the time. When I’m beginning a project, if I force myself to think about something like organization, it will stifle me. I won’t be able to move, think, feel. Write.
Later, when I’ve got material all over the place and organization is imperative, I might panic first, then experiment with ordering chapters or paragraphs in different ways. Maybe a previously written outline would help me at this point. But. It’s not likely to happen.
When I wrote my thesis for the Institute of American Indian Arts, I chose the simple format of alternating longer, essay-type chapters with shorter pieces. It worked enough to get the job done but felt too regulated, constrained, linear, so as I moved material into what was becoming Desert Chrome the book, I mixed it all up and put the small pieces in where my gut told me to. That felt so much better.
Do you have any advice for new writers? In two ways, I am an old writer: I’m sixty-six, and I have been writing for a long time. That Desert Chrome came out two-plus decades after my first books (a children’s book co-written with the painter Redwing T. Nez and two anthologies), with only articles, essays, and some fiction in between, is, on the one hand, an embarrassment; on the other, it’s a nod to my perseverance (or stubbornness). I did not quit. I will not quit.
Writing is about writing first, and then it seems to me that it is about rejection and resiliency. Fortitude. Some people have great success stories. Most do not. My mother published a new book in her eighties. I want to do that. I’d also like to publish a few more before then. How do I do accomplish that? Keep writing, even in the face of rejection.
How do our readers reach out to learn more about you and your work?
Thank you so much for this opportunity, George, and your support of writers and IAIA alum!
Kathryn Wilder’s “Desert Chrome,” Tychi and Jasper, Brumley Point and
Temple Butte in the background; Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, Disappointment Valley, Southwest Colorado
I am a poet.
I began seriously writing when I was seven years old. I remember making my first few lines in the diary. I convinced my paternal grandmother to buy it when we went uptown one day. This was during summer break when we, my sister and I, would stay with her for our annual visit. Beans and tortillas were all we ate, running in and out of the kitchen all day long and back outside, gulping a spoonful each time we passed the stove.
Wanting to write was a conscious choice for me at a young age. The book, Frederick the Mouse by Leo Leonni, was my early inspiration. I learned the power of words to make one whole, feel well-fed, and warm through that acclaimed children’s book. Frederick being a mouse poet, helped his family get through the coldest part of winter with his poems when their stores ran out.
Today I am the City of Madison Poet Laureate and the first Latina in this role. I served one-year as of January 2021. I have published three of my own collections of poetry and have a new one coming out soon. I have edited and co-edited books, journals, and zines, including the Spring 2019 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review. I went back in 2015, in my late forties, to get my MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I graduated in May 2017.
I also serve as the vice-chair on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission and help pick the state’s poet laureate biennially. I consider myself a literary ambassador in my role as poet laureate. Balancing my volunteerism, writing, appearances, and readings with my full-time job takes some organizing. It helps to have a partner who is an artist as well. We recently made Sundays full art days in our house.
Do you write in more than one genre? I do write in other genres, earning two Pushcart nominations, one for an essay and another for a poem. I write short stories, sci-fi and am working on a memoir right now. I took a class with IAIA alum David Tromblay in Fall 2019 and got a good start on my memoir. Poems are my favorite, though.
Tell us about your writing process: Everything for me starts in longhand. I edit on my computer. When I get stuck, I move it back to the page and write it out in longhand to figure out what went wrong in the editing process. I write in my body: hand to wrist to arm to core to heart to brain and back. I write fast on the page and have long practiced automatic writing. My pen always ahead of my brain, my conscious self. I am often surprised by what comes out on the page. The pen admits what I have been avoiding. That’s when writing gets exciting when you are a conduit of sorts and along for the ride. Sometimes lines come to me at night when I am dreaming. I do edit my poems voraciously and enjoy the rigorous process. I think this is where the real writing is now, in the editing. I find inspiration easy, but then I need to work with what I have created and sculpt it on the page until I am satisfied with form, white space, and sound. Poems take you where they want to go and are not done until you have read them in public. I read my poems aloud as I edit, but they sound different in my study than they do at a venue with actual people present. I do not consider a poem done until it has been shared orally with others. When I was a younger poet, I tried out poems at open mics to test them. Now I can record them and listen back, but it is still worthwhile to share them with others for final edits, in my opinion. Poems sound different when you read them to a live audience that one word makes a difference.I also think it is important to read other poets’ work, old and new. I like the idea of poets in conversation with each other across time and space and genre. Some of my poems are in direct response to another poet’s poem I heard them perform or something I read in print or online. I learned in graduate school that I love theory and continue to study. Listening to poets and writers read their work is a real pleasure for me. How you hear the words in your head versus when it is a public performance is enlightening. I listen to poetry readings, lectures, or conversations with writers when I cook these days or travel to visit my family in Chicago or Milwaukee.
What are you currently working on? I just received my contract from Finishing Line Press for my newest collection, My People Redux. This is the 2nd half of my master’s thesis. In Light, Always Light, also published by FLP in May 2019, was the first half. I graduated in May 2017 and spent a long year re-working my poems. In Light, Always Light, accepted in August 2018, was a finalist for their New Women’s Voices Award.
Concurrently, I am working on another collection of poetry that focuses on the history of us humans. This involves research. I am enjoying the process and taking my time. Some of these poems are published, and some are still being edited. I need to continue to push them out into the world. I was also working on my memoir in fits and starts.
In my role as the poet laureate for the City of Madison, I will be judging the annual Bus Line Poetry contest soon. I have many upcoming scheduled readings for a book I just published under my small press Art Night Books in November 2019 called, Through This Door – Wisconsin in Poems. This is a collaboration with the most recent state poet laureate, Margaret Rozga. The book took us over a year to put out and is the second time we have published a collection together. I served as co-editor for this collection in addition to being the publisher, and we have had a good response. Twice we have been on the radio, NPR stations, and I have logged many hours at the post office mailing books out across the state and country. We had to go back to the printer three times now.
I consider myself a literary ambassador as a poet laureate and this has opened up many doors for me. I want to continue to do that for other writers. We need community and support. I would not be where I am today without the networks I found all along the way. Nor, without people sharing opportunities with me and freely offering up what they know, and being generous. I believe in the power of art to heal, connect and create community. It is a record of our lives and our history. I am so happy to be on this journey at this moment in time.
Here are comments about my work by two poets I admire:
The poems of In Light, Always Light afford space for the lyric to clarify and delineate the self “… through the ravine to the seam / the V peak of the hills / where dappled light spills / between rocks and discarded beer cans.” Here Angela Vasquez presents poems that struggle to contend with family history, a history of diaspora and relation, of assertion and insistence that the reader and the poet must bring to bear the imperative of “yes, yes fight back.” The poems travel, as we do, to observe the poet in the eternal dimension where one must write, and read — “Let me sit in sadness for a spell. / I need to write this out.”
–Joan Naviyuk Kane, 2018 Guggenheim Fellow
The poems in Angie Trudell Vasquez’s In Light, Always Light honor the illuminating power of poetry, but they also speak eloquently of racial injustice and the dark “inherited grief” that is its offspring. These are poems of history, endurance, and remembrance. They vividly story the strength and survival of migrant ancestors “who built railroads / with broken backs” or shared “mole recipes on parchment.” In those relatives “passed. . .to vases of bone and ash,” Vasquez recognizes the fleeting quality of human reality. Like our forebears, we are mere “half blinks of history,” “we are magic dying.” But in this volume, Vasquez offers her ancestors colorful and enduring literary lives. “Poets,” she writes, “resist the death of a people” and “beyond death, art speaks.”
Kimberly Blaeser, author of Apprenticed to Justice, Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2015-2016
If people want to connect with me, the best way is email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My website is www.angietrudellvasquez.com, and my small press website is http://www.artnightbooks.com
We have Beatrice Szymkowiak here to tell us about poetry.
Beatrice and I are alumni of the Institue of America Arts. We graduated with MFAs in 2017. Hers in poetry, mine in fiction writing.
My research includes environmental literature, Indigenous contemporary poetry, and translingual literature. I am also particularly interested in Caribbean literature.
I am currently working on my creative dissertation, entitled B/RDS, a poetry collection that questions the Western heuristic approach to nature, and that has for a starting point, the iconic Birds of America by John James Audubon.
Book title and blurb and any comments about any other of your books:
Red Zone (Finishing Line Press, 2018) explores the WWI environmentally ravaged landscapes of my childhood.
Praise for Red Zone;
“Before the shrapnel, before the night in hell on the way to hell, and after that night, too, we were: ‘naming the woods.’ RED ZONE does a lot of things, but it also draws our eyes to the risk of our own departure. Description, sure. Timing, of course. But cognition and argument also? Szymkowiak makes me want to read more.” Joan Naviyuk Kane
Joan Naviyuk Kane is the author of several poetry collections: Milk Black Carbon, The Straits, The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, Milk Black Carbon, and forthcoming Dark Traffic. She is the recipient of multiple awards, fellowships, and prizes, including a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an American Book Award.
“In a complex meditation on the destructiveness of war and the persistence of nature, poet Beatrice Szymkowiak explores France’s Zone Rouge, the area so devastated by war that people are still forbidden to enter, where things still blossom and explode. Where “crows burst” above the land of “unexploded explosives.” Where “slow soil & / shrapnel” yield to “a murmuration of starlings.” In the long poem “Fleury-Devant-Douaumont,” the page itself becomes the zone, mined & grenaded & shrapnelled by words, words that begin to merge, becoming neologisms of compost—”betweenroots,” “shrapnelspades,” “inboots.” In the end, despite human interventions, “yellow-bellied toads frogs salamanders / crested newts thrive” and “corpses tuber / into russets.” Szymkowiak has written a crucial book, especially critical as the entire globe quickly becomes a Red Zone.” Jon Davis
Jon Davis is the author of several poetry collections, including Improbable Creatures, Preliminary Report, Scrimmage of Appetite, and Dangerous Amusements. He is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry and the Peter I.B. Lavan Prize from the Academy of American Poets.
Do you write in more than one genre? I do write poetry and non-fiction
Tell us about your writing process: My writing process varies following the projects. However, I often start a poem with a list of words, images, and an idea or a conceptual arch. Once I have a first draft, I revise until I feel that the poem does or evokes what I wanted it to do. Then I let it aside for a while and go back to it for additional revisions. This pause between two revision processes is necessary, as it creates a new perspective on the poem.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The very first word of a poem!
What kind of research do you do? As my poetry work often incorporates non-fiction, I do extensive research: reading essays, articles, historical documents, watching documentary films, etc.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I am interested in writing more non-fiction, and I have recently developed an interest in epic poems. But you never know what might come up!
How do our readers contact you?
My website: https://szymkow9.wixsite.com/bszymkowiak
Twitter account: @OhOldOcean
Buy your book?
This week, I revisited a few posts from bygone years. The oldest post was February 28, 2013. Here is what I wrote way back then:
Yesterday I glanced at the cover of a recent issue of AARP’s magazine. There on the cover was the “Hook.” Find the Work You Love!
Today is an anniversary of sorts. One year ago today, I was laid off from a great job. I have found work I love, writing, however so far sans pay. It would be nice to find a paying job.
I had to look at the article. Maybe this can help me find something that pays?
The article presents several senior citizens’ stories but is primarily about two women, Maz Rauber and Amy Reingold. The two write “juicy novels for young adults” under the pseudonym Ella Monroe.
They have an exciting and inspiring tale about the job they love. If you visit this URL, you can read the article and watch a video interview of the duo.
In the eight ensuing years, a lot of water has passed under the bridge (cliché alert). I accepted the reality of age discrimination and gave up looking for a new job, earned an MFA, and published my debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters.
The URL for the article no longer works. I did find a URL (https://us.macmillan.com/author/ellamonroe/) for Ella Monroe but did not locate the interview.
There were two comments left, one by my best friend Jim Kennemore, who passed away last year. I miss him every day.
The other by my youngest daughter, Katie Cramer Rosevear, who has been an inspiration to me. She is a successful businesswoman, give her a visit at http://www.lolaandivy.com
Watched the video…Interesting. So you want to collaborate on a book? Just kidding. You know I think if you are serious (and I believe you are), I think you ought to write and submit some short stories to different publications. The pay might be small, maybe nonexistent, but if you can get published, you begin a resume. I thought about submitting that D.C. story of mine to HOG magazine a few years ago, but it was way too long…anyway, good luck with it all…JAK
Katie Cramer Rosevear:
Happy one year of writing, Dad! Thank you for inspiring me every day! Xo
Terese Marie Mailhot – A New York Times bestseller
Selected by Emma Watson as the Our Shared Shelf Book Club Pick for March/April 2018
A PBS Newshour/New York Times Now Read This Book Club Pick
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
Winner of the Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature
Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English–Language Nonfiction
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
An NPR Best Book of the Year
“There are so many sentences I had to read again because they were so true and beautiful. It’s a memoir of pure poetry and courage and invention. Whenever I think about it, my heart clenches with love.” —Cheryl Strayed, The New York Times Book Review.
“A sledgehammer . . . Her experiments with structure and language . . . are in the service of trying to find new ways to think about the past, trauma, repetition, and reconciliation, which might be a way of saying a new model for the memoir . . . If Heart Berries is any indication, the work to come will not just surface suppressed stories; it might give birth to new forms.” —The New York Times.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes! I have a novel coming out soon! It’s untitled.
What brought you to writing? I loved my mother’s writing very much. She was the first person who really taught me about writing. I would watch her work nightly on poetry or essay, and I always thought it was honorable work.
Where do you write and do allow any distractions? I write in my bedroom, because it’s the only room in the house I could set up an office. I invite distractions. I’m very lucky in my life. This pandemic has taught me to value family time and I’ve also learned how to enjoy being sidetracked. Those moments of distraction can be inspiring and energizing.
Tell us about your writing process: I write every day until I make my wordcount goal. Then I take a few months off and revise. If it’s for something more urgent, I work relentlessly, nonstop, until it’s as good as it gets for that deadline.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Time. Work life getting in the way.
What are you currently working on? The novel. I’m giving it time. I finished the first draft, so it’s about time to revise.
Who’s currently your favorite author? Kiese Laymon or Jesmyn Ward or James Baldwin … it’s too hard to choose!
How long did it take you to write your first book and published? It about 6 years to write. It sold two weeks from the time I sent it out and was published a year after.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I like the outsiders. I like writing from the perspective of black sheep types, because their interiority is electric and perceptive, willful, and neglected.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Yes.
Do you try to make the antagonist into a more human character? I think flawed characters are my favorite. I like people written off or disregarded, or people who are misunderstood.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I think there are underpinned themes in all the work I do. I think, in my current novel, there’s an underpinned theme of joy and collectivity, and I think of it like taste. Like, there should be many dimensions to a good dish. There should be a lot to savor or value in good food. Maybe I’m hungry. It shouldn’t be overbearing the main course.
Do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I like work with little plot. I just throw wrenches at my characters until something strikes me.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both.
What kind of research do you do? A lot. As much as humanly possible from all kinds of sources.
What is the best book you ever read? Giovanni’s Room.
Do you have any advice for new writers? You can do it. It’s harder for some, but nothing is impossible.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? I write for the women I love. I write for my mother.
How do our readers contact you? Teresemailhot.com