Joliange Wright’s piece “The Mother Church” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Summer 2018 issue, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I was raised in Indiana in the eighties. My family were working class people who went to union meetings through the week and church on Sundays. The foundational layer of my material as a writer was laid in the Midwest. Some of the voices in my head are those voices.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
For me, the great migration of people from the South to the Midwest in the 1950’s, when car manufacturing opened up middle class jobs to previously working poor folks, is a complicated and rich subject for thought and study. This is the so-called “Hillbilly Highway.” This is how my family came to be there.
Of course, there was an African American history woven into this story too, which my family didn’t discuss. But it’s been an exciting part of my study to understand the whole picture better. The complex labor history in the region is deeply connected to the political reality we’re living in today.
How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?
I was a competitive baton twirler as a child, and so we drove through the Midwestern states a lot for competitions. I had a lot of extreme experiences, and it seemed like everyone was striving, struggling. The people in my immediate life worked nonstop. If there was a dollar to be made, they worked for it. In church people spoke in tongues, and it was not explained. As much as I’ve tried to build, and have built a life outside these contexts, these early experiences built my character and began my understanding of the world.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I have a lot of practices to help me write because I don’t have an easy time getting things on the page. I scribble three pages every morning, just stream of consciousness, where I scream and rant and write neurotic to do lists. It’s like a purge. And I meditate. I send myself love and hippie stuff like that. That’s on a good day. I need silence and solitude. I disable the Internet. I keep novels I want to emulate open on my desk. I have pictures of artists and writers I love all around my studio, like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe and James Baldwin. The strength in their eyes pushes me forward.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I don’t think I ever know, but sometimes I start weeping when a certain sentence gets written. And sometimes that’s the end.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Someone asked me this recently, and I felt indignant that I should have one (as opposed to twenty). James Baldwin is probably my greatest writer hero. But I depend so much on Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Dorothy Allison, Edwidge Danticat, Virginia Woolf. I love Roberto Bolano for taking me into other realms of consciousness, and Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich for reminding me about the women who came before. I read Mary Oliver when I miss nature and Lucia Perillo when I feel sad but don’t understand why.
What’s next for you?
I’m starting work on a PhD in the fall at the University of Southern California. I’m really excited to work with the faculty in the creative writing program—they’re all such good writers. And real people. I’ll also get to read theory and get smarter in ways I haven’t known how to before. I recently started working on a novel, which I’m taking nice and easy.
Where can we find more information about you?
I have two other stories, in Consequence Magazine and Lunch Ticket, both important literary magazines covering the culture of war, and social justice issues, respectively. You could check those out. I haven’t made peace with the internet, so I don’t have social media, etc. You could write me a letter… I’ve always wanted to have multiple intense letter writing relationships, like Rilke.