Sara Leavens’ story “How to Conserve Water in a Drought” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 13, out now.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first short story—an escapist piece about an old man who lived in a lighthouse and his pet whale when I was in Kindergarten. I had my first reading later the same day during “Show and Tell” on the exclusive Numbers and Letters Carpet. It was a hit through all three recesses. I’ve been hooked ever since.
What’s your connection to the Midwest?
My family has inhabited the same one-stoplight towns and steamrolled countryside in north central Iowa for over 100 years. I attended state universities in Iowa for six years before moving to Kansas for my MFA.
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I fought writing about the Midwest for so long. I don’t think anyone who grows up in the rural or—especially—suburban Midwest doesn’t dream of leaving or escaping at some point in their lives. I wrote fiction to escape reality, not to confront it head on. The impulse was always there, but it wasn’t what I was reading or thinking about—which is completely ironic because I’ve never lived anywhere else.
The Atlantic Monthly’s online supplement published Stephen Bloom’s “Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life” right around the time I was trying to piece together the short story collection project I composed for my master’s degree. Although I was a literature student fully capable of grasping satire and irony, it made my ears hot. It drove me to write an entire collection of depictions of Iowans and Upper Midwesterners that were honest, true, and humane. Above all, it made me an activist.
If Midwesterners don’t want “outsiders” misinterpreting who we are, we need to take the time to write about ourselves. We need to make people care. Make people realize we live rich, worthy, and fascinating lives in “flyover country.”
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?
There was a false narrative in this country about Midwesterners being polite and reticent yokels—certainly not innovators or radicals. If it is assumed that you won’t use your voice, no one will be interested in hearing it. I see this narrative changing more and more every year and it excites me. Publication venues like Midwestern Gothic and the ascendancy the Minneapolis literary/arts scene have done a lot to make this happen.
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I think its great and I try to use it whenever I can.
Extraordinary Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley. I find something new to fall in love with every time I read it.
Pie. A poet and book review editor friend of mine reviewed Kate Lebo’s A Commonplace Book of Pie recently and we’ve been baking our way through those recipes for a few months now. I fully recommend all of them, especially the Ginger Peach.
If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I’d love to have Schlitzes with Danielle Steel in a roadhouse in northern Wisconsin and learn about how she makes her megamillions, but I think a few rounds with Grace Paley’s ghost would be a more realistic choice.
Where can we find more information about you?
Certainly follow me on twitter: @sara_alyse or drop me an email: email@example.com.