Theresa Williams’s piece “Uncle June” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 3, out now.
How long have you been writing?
My earliest writings were letters. When I was in grade school, I had penpals all across the land. In Junior High I created my own newpapers and magazines to amuse myself and my friends. I pretty much quit writing in High School. Then I took a creative writing class at East Carolina University. That was the first time I thought about writing poems or literary stories.
What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I moved to Northwest Ohio in 1987 to attend Bowling Green State University for the MFA. I never left.
In a deeper sense, my connection comes through Sherwood Anderson’s writings, expecially Winesburg, Ohio. Of all the literary and artistic movements, the one with which I most identify is Expressionism: think of Munch’s The Scream. What’s going on in one’s inner thoughts interests me, all those roiling hopes and fears. And it’s the inner world that Anderson sought to capture.
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
At first the flatness of the land here in Northwest Ohio confused and frightened me. The openness made me feel vulnerable. And the repetition of fields and houses gave me a sense of dread. But there’s something about it that turns you inward. This was ultimately good for me and for my writing.
Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
As I think about now, it seems a shame that hasn’t happened. The history is there and the writers are there. Perhaps there hasn’t been enough repetition in media of the Midwest as a place that has its own culture and concerns. Perhaps academia, too, has been slow to recognize Midwestern writing as a worthy subject of study.
Faulkner’s work grew out of the disentegration of the South after the war. He created characters who struggled to find a place in the new order. Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers saw and understood the same things as Faulkner, and they wrote about people who had become twisted by social conventions. The South also has a great oral tradition, and Southern writers frequently drew from that well of stories. Ironically, it was Sherwood Anderson, a Midwesterner, who really encouraged Faulkner to write about the place he knew best. It was Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, with its Expressionist bent that, at least in part, showed Faulkner the way.
The West was hip, the happening place. It was where you could remake yourself, and much of our literature is based on travels West: The Grapes of Wrath and On the Road, for instance. The West is the land of promise and dreams. This myth has been repeated many times, and it taps into all kinds of beliefs about ourselves as human beings.
The South and the West were places of great transformation, but then then so has been the Midwest. Yet the Midwest, so far as I can see, has yet to make the deep claims on our consciousness that the South and West have.
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
It’s useful. I announce publications on Facebook and also on my blog. It has the potential to reach a lot of people. The danger, of course, is that so many people are using it this way that you can fall through the cracks.
I don’t have a favorite, but I have books I return to again and again, like Winesburg, Ohio, Light in August, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Slaughterhouse-Five, and many books of poetry by authors such as Theodore Roethke, Rilke, Goethe, and Ryokan. I also do artwork, so I have lots of art books about. Currently I’m obsessed with James Ensor. I’m also always on the prowl for new favorite books.
Lamb Sagwala at my favorite Indian Restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, is always a treat.
If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I do it reguarly. I read their books (while drinking coffee, tea, or beer). Everything they have to tell me is in their books.
Where can we find more information about you?
Literary Tracings: Theresa Williams: http://theresawilliams.yolasite.com/
The Letter Project: http://theletterproject.wordpress.com/
Google Profile: https://profiles.google.com/TheresaAnnAleshireWilliams