Sean Richard Higgins’ story “For the Take” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 13, out now.
How long have you been writing?
In third grade, a dour old grammar teacher sent me, along with two other surprised students, across the school to speak with Mrs. H., an assistant librarian. I remember that walk — we all thought that we were in trouble for stealing erasers from the book fair.
It turned out that Mrs. H. had a writing project for us. We spent each Friday for the next two months cloistered up in her tiny basement office researching the life of a local historical figure and cobbling together a “biography,” complete with hand-drawn illustrations and binding wrapped with wood-grain wallpaper. The little book was sent along to some sort of contest for young writers, and it won. The principal gave us medals. Mrs. H. snuck us out of class to get pizza.
I’ve been writing—in scattered fits—ever since, driven by the subconscious lure of principal medals and sneaky pizza.
What’s your connection to the Midwest?
My Dad was in the Air Force, so we moved frequently. By some fluke of administrative luck, he was stationed at the Air Force Base up in Marquette, Michigan for a couple of years beyond the typical tour. My family was there for most of my childhood, but we packed up and moved to Hawaii just after I started middle school. I made my way back eventually to get my bachelor’s at Michigan State, but then moved to New York after graduating.
I missed Michigan more than I thought I would, though. The people. The woods. The Northern Cities Vowel Shift. Vernors. I’m back now, and live in Ypsilanti.
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
If the Midwest has influenced my writing at all, it’s done so quietly. But that’s kind of how we operate, isn’t it? A little more soft-spoken, a little less inclined to shout. Of course these are generalizations, but I’d like to think—and I’m just spitballing here—that there’s a bit more of an earnest quality to the writing that comes out of the region. You see this kind of approach with “outsider,” or folk art: creating something for its own sake, because you like the way it sounds and it feels good to do it.
I’d hope that earnest, innocent approach comes through in 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?
I remember a farmer telling me once that death didn’t scare him because he dealt with it every day. Chickens were culled for Sunday dinner. Cows were put down because of some painful livestock disease. Hogs and goats and ducks and cats and dogs all died eventually. He didn’t see himself as being any different from them.
That always stuck with me as a particularly Midwestern sentiment. Like I mentioned in the last question, there’s a hesitancy towards being too assertive. We’re lucky to be alive. Thankful, even. I know that the Midwest is a broad category, but I think it’s fair to say that we’re a bit more reserved than other regions. Maybe that’s why we don’t see as much of a regionalist push.
Also, it’s hard to parse out what actually makes writing “Midwestern” in the first place. Is there some sort of Midwestern Canon that we can hold up and draw examples and insight from? What does Midwestern writing taste like?
That’s why I’m so excited about journals like this. They’re putting a frame and a context around writing pulled from the region and they’re planting a flag in it: “Here’s Midwestern Literature.”
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I just started doing Twitter again, and I’m having fun with it. I don’t work well with Facebook, though, so I don’t have an account.
Speaking of Midwestern Literature, I’ve really been digging Winesburg, Ohio lately. But if I had to pick a favorite book, I’d probably say The Stories of John Cheever.
Tough question. Today I say Indian food, but tomorrow I could say cereal.
If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I’d wait for the day of a big, life-altering event—a job interview or biopsy or funeral or speaking engagement or something—and have coffee that morning with Soren Kierkegaard in my kitchen. Maybe his intensity would take some of the edge off.