Contributor Spotlight: Rebecca Berg

May 15th, 2018

Rebecca Berg author headshotRebecca Berg’s piece “Taki’s” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

Born in Ohio, grew up in Buffalo and St. Louis, and went to college in Ohio.

I’ve always been militantly against “write what you know.” When I started writing fiction, I couldn’t even imagine setting a story in the Midwest. Especially not in St. Louis, which felt absolutely unenchanted to me. I was very wrong about St. Louis, but I needed distance. I had to try my hand at other cities, other countries, other periods of history. After I’d spent many years learning to write from a place of not knowing, I finally brought this habit to bear on St. Louis. And was stunned by the lush, eerie, tragic place that it is.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

Well, I’m not a booster, but the Midwest in its urban, rustbelt dimension will always be home. It’s compelling because it embodies the paradoxes of memory and time. As I get older, I often feel as if the past is being erased behind me. At the same time, certain physical remnants go on existing (old letters and photos, my own face in the mirror, the childhood houses I stopped living in decades ago). An abandoned warehouse is a ready-made metaphor for what Ursula LeGuin calls “the broken world the conquistadors leave behind.” So it’s personal and psychological, but the resonance also feels broader. It feels as if it’s about capitalism and racism. Sometimes it feels as if St. Louis, with its history of housing discrimination and its swaths of urban prairie encircled by ever-expanding suburban development, is a hole in the heart of the country.

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?

A few years ago, I returned to St. Louis and visited a grade school I attended there. The building was about to be torn down. Its gray-painted steel doors and mesh-covered windows were the same as they’d been forty years ago. I hadn’t noticed them consciously when I was a child, so I’d forgotten them. Now it was as if I’d never stopped standing in that schoolyard. The ancient past was leapfrogging over the recent past; the seven-year-old me felt more immediate than the person I’d been last week. Time felt both circular and implacably linear—because a do-over was not, had never been, possible. I suppose writing is an attempt to get around that iron law.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

I write longhand. That’s the one constant. Oh, and I revise incessantly. Otherwise, every piece of writing demands its own process. In one case, that might be a kind of quilting: piecing the story together by laying out lots of fragments and deciding what goes next to what. In another case, a voice tumbles out of me. In the case of “Taki’s,” I woke up at two in the morning, suddenly obsessed by memories of a restaurant. I thought I’d jot a note about it and go back to sleep. Three hours later, I was still writing.

When I get stuck, I find it helpful to write lying down. Face down. I’ll free-associate words and sentence fragments. That removes the pressure to think in fully formed sentences. I used to write this way all the time. It did a number on my neck! I save it now for times when I’m truly in trouble—when what I’m writing feels shallow or untrue, or when I’ve been relying on my very conventional-minded executive function, or when I catch myself writing out of ambition or a desire for approval.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

A piece of writing is never finished. Once something is published, I can’t go on revising, obviously. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

It changes, but right now there are two—Marilynne Robinson and W.G. Sebald. They have this in common: limber voice and a not overly engineered approach to narrative.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a book. It’s part family memoir and part historical novel set in France during the sixteenth-century Wars of Religion. The two things are connected—at least, in my mind they are! Also, sixteenth-century France reminds me a little of the political situation in this country.

Where can we find more information about you?

https://www.lighthousewriters.org/user/24

Midwest in Photos: Lone Prarie

“You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.” – Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You.

Lone Prairie by David Thompson

Photo by: David Thompson

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Interview: Jamel Brinkley

Jamel Brinkley author headshot

Photo Credit: Arash Saedinia

Midwestern Gothic staffer Kathryn Cammell talked with author Jamel Brinkley about his debut collection A Lucky Man, the challenge of writing a short story, how to overcome rejection, and more.

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Kathryn Cammell: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Jamel Brinkley: I drafted and/or revised every story in my debut story collection while living in the Midwest—in Iowa City and Madison, specifically.

KC: Your forthcoming debut, A Lucky Man, is a collection of fiction short stories about the interwoven lives of men and the nuances of their relationships with other people in their lives. What drew you to this subject matter?

JB: I didn’t set out to write about one specific thing, but I suppose I must have been drawn to my subject matter by my own experiences, memories, and obsessions. In my life as a boy and then a man, I’ve thought a lot about masculinity (especially black masculinity) and human relationships of various kinds. A Lucky Man is a work of the imagination, but really I wrote about the kinds of people I’ve known, whose lives are rich, complicated, nuanced, and full of love and loss.

A Lucky Man book cover by Jamel Brinkley

KC: What is the importance of short stories, especially when many short story authors are pressured to write longer works?

JB: I’m tempted to say that simply resisting the market-driven preference for longer works itself makes writing and reading short stories a virtue. But I won’t stop at that. The compression required in a short story, whether it’s five pages or thirty pages, presents a distinct formal challenge (for the writer) and pleasure (for the reader) that you don’t get from a longer work, which has its own challenges and pleasures. Whereas even good or great longer works typically have the freedom to slack off every once in a while, good short stories usually have to work from sentence to sentence, in a lapidary way. Also, and maybe more importantly, I think they tend to mirror how I, and maybe other people, actually narrate life, not as one long cohesive, plotted narrative, but as a collection of smaller stories, each one told as though at a bar with a friend: “Hey, let me tell you what happened the other day…” I like that stories tilt in some ways toward poetry, and I like the feeling that you can hold an entire story in your mind.

KC: The stories in your collection focus on luck and its absence, in the lives of men living in Brooklyn and the South Bronx: how did your own childhood growing up in those places influence what you chose to explore in your stories?

JB: As I mentioned, I don’t feel like I consciously chose to explore any particular thing in my stories. My childhood growing up in a particular place probably influenced me the way anyone’s childhood growing up in a particular place would. Toni Morrison said that “universal” is a word hopelessly stripped of meaning. She went on to say, “Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. It is good—and universal —because it is specifically about a particular world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water.” I wrote about what I didn’t know about the particular things I know, and what I know is, largely, Brooklyn and the Bronx. If I managed to depict, even in an oblique way, a fraction of what life in those places has been like, then I can be happy with that.

KC: How do the places that you lived in the Midwest compare to Brooklyn and the South Bronx? Is there anything from your time in each place that you can identify as influencing your writing?

JB: The thing that struck me immediately about Iowa City and Madison is the quiet in those places, relative to where I lived in New York. Sure, there was the occasional band of frat boys hooting and hollering, or the sound of a car passing in the rain, but mostly my sense was, “Wow, it’s really quiet here.” I don’t know that this quiet influenced my prose itself, although maybe it did. Some stories, many of the ones I began in the Midwest, do have a quieter prose style than the stories I arrived with. Mostly, I think the quiet and relative lack of distractions just helped me get more writing done.

KC: Since having recently gone through the process, do you have advice for writers who are looking to get their books published?

JB: Try not to get too bent out of shape about rejection. My book was rejected by the vast majority of publishers who looked at it. If possible, try to choose an agent and an editor whom you instinctively trust, who push or nudge you as necessary but always show respect for you and your work and understand what you’re trying to do. Have people in your life who are also going through the same process you are, or who have gone through it. They will understand the very particular challenges and anxieties involved in the process. Regardless of what is happening, good or bad, keeping writing and reading so you stay connected to the fundamental joys that made you want to be a writer in the first place.

KC: What does your writing process look like? Do you have a specific environment where you find you work best?

JB: I always work at home, wherever home is, unless I’m at a residency or something like that. I’m not a writer who can work in, say, a cafe. I think my process is primarily character- and language-focused. I write first drafts slowly, asking lots of questions, nitpicking my way from sentence to sentence, but I try not to think too much about issues of craft or the kinds of things that usually come up in workshops. If I’m not under pressure from a deadline, when I’m done with a draft I let it sit for a while. When I look at it again, I start thinking more deliberately about craft: scene, point of view, dialogue, etc. I find Robert Boswell’s transitional drafts method helpful. Finally, I try to make sure I haven’t “crafted” the life out of the story. If I feel stuck, then I have trusted readers I can turn to.

KC: What’s next for you?

JB: I want to write more stories, and maybe something longer too. We’ll see.

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Jamel Brinkley was raised in the Bronx and Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work has received fellowships from Kimbilio Fiction and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and beginning this fall he will be a 2018-2020 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University.

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Contributor Spotlight: Mattie Ganson

Madison Ganson author headshotMattie Ganson’s piece “Description of a Burning House” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I grew up in a little Chicago suburb, spent a lot of time in Wisconsin as a kid and then went to Beloit College, so my Midwesterness goes pretty deep. I think my aesthetic love for both kitsch and decay comes from having grown up in the Midwest, even though those aren’t uniquely Midwestern things.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

I love the strange, funny and lovely things that turn up every time I take a long drive through the midwest. Two years ago I was driving up to my friend’s cabin in the UP and it had gotten very late and very dark and I looked over and the moon was this enormous silver dollar low in the sky and so I yelled “THE MOON!” and my girlfriend at the time snapped her head around to look and nearly crashed the car. When my mom and I went to go visit my nanie in Missouri there was this Steak & Shake we would always stop at, this lonely, shiny fast food beacon in the middle of nowhere that serves the best fries of all time. One time on the way to the Milwaukee Art Museum I really had to pee but when I pulled off into the rest area there wasn’t a shelter, so I went and peed in the woods and got a bunch of burs in my underwear. I love all the different ways that I’m surprised and charmed by the Midwest while going through it, especially when so many people only think of it as a place to pass through.

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’m really enchanted by the symbolic weight that I put into visiting places or missing places, like graves or old homes or familiar haunts. I’m most interested in what exactly it is that makes places special and what it means for a place to be special, whether that has to do with inherent beauty or subjective memory or senses of ceremony. I like the way that going to places is often a way of being close to something that isn’t about the place itself but what happened there and what that place means to one person or to many people.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

My ideal writing environment would be a disgustingly comfortable chair on a sun drenched balcony 4-5 stories from ground level on a busy – but not congested – street in a part of the world where it’s 70 degrees all year round with 2 large plants to keep me company. Every 3 or 4 hours, someone brings me black tea, strawberries, and egg on toast.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

The only way I can think of to answer this question is “I don’t know!!! Sometimes it feels finished in my Heart!!!” I spend a lot of time editing and sending my work off to friends to look at so after that process I usually reach a point where I’m happy with everything that’s going on and make the executive decision to not fuss with it anymore.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

I dearly love Toni Morrison, Ray Bradbury, Maggie Nelson, and James Baldwin because they all write with such a heartbreaking tenderness for the stories they tell and the people in those stories.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to graduate college this Spring! If you know any publishing houses looking for an adorable and dutiful publishing sprite, send them my way.

Where can we find more information about you?

Follow me on instagram at mattieleighx or feel free to endorse me for the Fiction Writing skill on LinkedIn.

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Midwest in Photos: Tin Pails Portrait

“To conform is to lose your soul.” – Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End

Tin Pails Portrait by Kristina Shue

Photo by: Kristina Shue

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Interview: Terese Mailhot

Terese Mailhot author headshotMidwestern Gothic staffer Laura Dzubay talked with author Terese Mailhot about her novel Heart Berries, willful blindness, knowing when you’ve hit your voice, and more.

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Laura Dzubay: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Terese Mailhot: I fell in love with my husband, and he’s from Evansville, IN. He played football in that small town, his parents still live there, so I wanted to work close to them. That’s why I applied to the Tecumseh Postdoc at Purdue. I got it, and we rolled out of our little adobe house in New Mexico. We love it here.

LD: In terms of setting, Heart Berries is focused primarily on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. How do considerations of place factor into your writing process? Are there some settings from your life that would feel more natural than others in the context of a memoir such as this?

TM: We call it Seabird Island Rez where I’m from. I just love the ring of that. I loved my rez and the life on it. The vibrancy of that place still thrills me, and I long for the old house I grew up in. That house burned down. My own uncle said it was cool to tear up the land, where my grandmother planted and cultivated so much beauty. So, I lament. I miss that place, and can never really go home again. For Heart Berries it was necessary to explore the meaning of home, and, for me, your home is about the land. The story of the land, and then how your family came to be, and how they cultivated that space for themselves.

Heart Berries book cover by Terese Mailhot

LD: In an interview with The Atlantic, you talked about “willful blindness” as a technique for resisting the rules and preconceptions of things you’re “supposed” to do. After thinking about this during the composition of Heart Berries, do you see it coming up as a regular function of your writing moving into the future?

TM: No. I think each book requires something. Heart Berries needed me to put the blindfold on and now I feel the compulsion to take it off. I’m not afraid to explore working outside of the rules that service good story. I want to take my time, and I used to feel urgency. I used to feel anger, and now I feel more. Also, the center and focus of my work has broadened. The content is different now, and it’s going to take, literally, more words to express how healing has worked for me. It’s a good kind of problem that’s asking me to write differently. Eyes open.

LD: As a memoir, this book has already been recognized for its fearless approach of difficult and traumatic subjects. When did you decide that this was a story you needed to tell?

TM: I think when I found myself consumed with the death of my father. I was always trying to express how his death felt. It took me a long time, but I was able to write that line, “My father died at the Thunderbird Hotel on Flood Hope Road.” Then it was on. It was all on, and I just wrote without relenting after that.

LD: Heart Berries is relatively short overall, but it’s also packed with emotion, creativity, and originality. How did your relationship with the idea of convention change during this project?

TM: I wanted to write a full book. I wanted to please everyone who believed in me, but I couldn’t. I just was writing and couldn’t worry about pleasing them, because what I was writing was worthwhile. I think you know when you’ve hit your voice. You know when you’re almost playing the music in your head, and you have to honor that voice. I knew I had to honor it, and revise according to that honor.

LD: Do you believe writer’s block exists, and if so, how do you deal with it?

TM: Yes. Writer’s block is part of my process. Some days I can’t write. As long as I make a note on my phone, or in my notebook, I’m okay. I also read when I can’t write, so that helps.

LD: How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

TM: It feels finished. You have to give it time, because sometimes it feels finished for now, and then you wait a few months, or a year, and you can go back and see if you’re right. That’s kind of how I work.

LD: What’s next for you?

TM: Book two. Sharing my success. Going back to my hometown when I get my first real check, and playing the slots with my brother. That’s the dream. My life is dreamy.

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Terese Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. She graduated with an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her writing appears in West Branch, Guernica, Pacific Standard, Elle, The LA Times, Longreads, Medium, and elsewhere. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling Heart Berries: A Memoir. She serves as faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts and she’s a Tecumseh Postdoctoral Fellow at Purdue University.

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Contributor Spotlight: Jason Zeitler

Jason Zeitler author headshotJason Zeitler’s piece “Remembrance” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, available now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I was born and raised in South Dakota. I’ve actually lived in other parts of the U.S. for longer than I lived in South Dakota, but I still consider myself a Midwesterner. If nothing else, I’ve retained the sensibilities and speech patterns of someone from the Midwest, and I think those things have bled into the content and rhythms of my writing. This is true even when the narratives themselves are set in places outside the Midwest.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

The most compelling aspect is its expansiveness and the possibilities that implies. Take the Dakota plains, for example. The landscape itself is on such a grand scale. You look out and see endless grass or endless snow or endless sky. That expansiveness and freedom invariably affects your world view.

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?

Even in my fictional pieces, I find details about growing up in the Midwest creeping into the narrative: dogs I had as a child, hunting trips in South Dakota, teenage obsessions, etc. You can’t escape who you are or the experiences that formed you.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

I write when something takes ahold of me. Writing is nine parts hard work and one part inspiration, but the process starts with inspiration. More often than not your writing is mediocre when your heart isn’t in it. The kinds of things that inspire me are usually dramatic experiences or images I can’t get out of my head, and in that sense the writing process amounts to an exorcism.

My ideal writing environment is at home with no distractions. When I get writer’s block, I do one of two things: (1) write through it, even if the result isn’t worth the paper it was written on, and then whittle away until I get what I’m looking for; or (2) put the writing aside and focus on something else until inspiration returns (which may mean simply going for a hike or a swim to clear my head, or it may mean not writing for an extended period).

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

I know I’m finished with a piece when I start fretting over the placement of commas and/or when I start reciting whole sections of text in my head for the pure pleasure of it. Usually shortly after one or both of these things happen, I stop thinking about the piece and feel inclined to move on to something else.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

I like so many different writers, it’s hard to identify a favorite. In my late teens and early twenties, I was obsessed with Dostoevsky. At about that same time, I developed a fondness for the modernists and the anti-modernists—Faulkner and Woolf and Orwell and Steinbeck, respectively—because of what they taught me about fictional technique. More recently, I’ve found myself drawn to writers like Cormac McCarthy and William Gay and Michael Ondaatje because of their dark lyricism.

What’s next for you?

This is something I’ve thought about a lot lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that continuing to write short stories and narrative essays is enough for me. Of course I want an audience and validation from writers and editors, but fame and fortune aren’t at the top of my list of goals for myself. If I ever run out of ideas for shorter pieces, I might try my hand at a novel, but for now, the only substantive goal I have with my writing is to get a collection of stories published, which would be a truly gratifying culmination to my work over the past several years.

Where can we find more information about you?

I live and write in obscurity, and I’d like to keep it that way. I suppose it’s ironic for me to say something like that and at the same time to publish personal essays (and to participate in this interview, for that matter). But there’s a reason why I don’t have social-media accounts or a cellphone: I value my privacy. In a similar vein, I want the stories I get published to be about the writing, not about me, even when, ironically, I happen to be the narrator.

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Contributor Spotlight: Bruce Johnson

Bruce Johnson author headshotBruce Johnson’s story “All the Wild” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and lived there until I moved away for my MFA at age 23. Though I haven’t lived there for a while now, my stories draw upon a lot of the settings and experiences I was exposed to while I did, and I think some of the recurring preoccupations of my fiction—especially a skepticism toward traditional concepts of masculinity—grew out of my experience as a midwesterner who often didn’t fit in with other midwesterners. But more importantly, I think the matter-of-fact speech common in the region will always be a part of my writing voice at the sentence level.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

I’m a little hesitant to generalize about the Midwest, because it’s such a large region and I’ve only ever lived in such a tiny sliver of it. But in the other places I’ve lived, different classes of people tend to self-segregate and often try to more or less ignore each other. That’s not the case in Lincoln. I miss seeing the coexistence of different classes in the same small space, and mingling with people from different economic backgrounds.

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?

The Midwest is a very unique place to grow up, and that gave me a lot of rich settings to draw upon that many writers and readers aren’t privy to. Lincoln in particular was a great starting place for me as a writer, with its college-city feel and its proximity to smaller towns and the wide-open country. Those settings have an obvious influence on my stories set in the Midwest, but also on the stories that take place in other regions or countries. The distinctiveness of my experience growing up in the Midwest has helped me draw contrasts in order to understand what makes other places unique as well.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

When I start a new story, it often feels like I need to forget everything I thought I knew about writing and figure out a new process that will work for that particular story. Sometimes I have a clear idea of what a story is about before I start it, other times I just have a first sentence I want to play with. Sometimes a story demands a quiet room to write in, other times weird industrial music playing in my headphones. And inspiration can come from anywhere; I have a long list of story ideas written down in my phone, and I don’t remember where most of them came from. I can’t say I experience writer’s block much, though. I’m always writing. It’s not always good, but throwing out bad work is part of the process.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

It kind of depends on the story, but usually I can tell it’s finished when the changes I’m making are increasingly minor—fiddling with comma placement, for example, or re-inserting a sentence I took out the day before.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

I read a lot of different types of fiction so my instinct here is to name a ton of different writers that I love, but that seems like a cop-out. So I’ll say Don Delillo, whose books I re-read more than those of any other author. His sentences are what draw me to his work.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on my PhD dissertation, which is a novel that follows a couple recent immigrants to Santiago, Chile. One of them is from Lincoln like me, so it will definitely have some Midwest influence in there as I tackle the collision of cultures that comes with any story of immigration.

Where can we find more information about you?

On my website at https://brucejohnsonfiction.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bruce2101.

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Midwest in Photos: Workers and Flowers

“You have, to dream things out. It keeps a kind of an ideal before you. You see it first in your mind and then you set about to try and make it like the ideal. If you want a garden,—why, I guess you’ve got to dream a garden.” – Beth Streeter Aldrich, A Lantern in Her Hand.

Midwest in Photos - Workers and Flowers by David J. Thompson

Photo by: David J. Thompson

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Views from the Heartland: Laura Migliorino

Laura Migliorino headshotMidwestern Gothic staffer Kate Cammell talked with photographer Laura Migliorino about her creative process, the overlooked diversity of suburban life, outside perspectives of American culture, and more.

Laura Migliorino was born in Cleveland, Ohio in an Italian–American family. Her background has been very influential her life, shaping her values and character. Migliorino spent a majority of her childhood in suburban Chicago after her family moved there when she was three years old. She has a B.F.A from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an M.F.A from the University of Minnesota. She is a professor of Art at Anoka-Ramsey Community College near Minneapolis, MN. Migliorino has exhibited world wide, is the recipient of Jerome Foundation Grants, and several Minnesota State Arts Board Grants. Her work is in several permanent collections including the Walker Art Center, The Weisman, and The WareHOUSE Wieland Museum.

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Kate Cammell: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Laura Migliorino: I am a Midwesterner through and through, all along the Great Lakes. I was born in Cleveland, but moved to Chicago when I was three years old. Chicago has the greatest influence on my character and ethos. A hardworking, rust belt city where people talk to you at a bus stop and friendly. I love the line “I saw a man who danced with his wife, in Chicago” from that great song. It embraces a tenderness that I believe is at the root of Midwestern values. I now live in Minneapolis really the upper Midwest, true flyover territory. Minnesota takes the Chicago friendly to a reserved, but lovely politeness. When I first moved there over 30 years ago I sort of resented the politeness, but as we have become a rude and indifferent culture I appreciate the honesty and openness of the Midwest.

KC: Your photography is interested in exploring people’s relationship to place and boundaries. Has your work in the Midwest led you to discover anything particularly revealing about Midwesterners’ relationship to their region?

LM: I think the thing that stands out the most is we don’t care if we are fly over country and that the world doesn’t really know anything about the Midwest. Now I define the Midwest as Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Many of my friends laugh when the national news uses the term “midwest” when they are referring to Kansas. We know who we are, and don’t need to prove anything to anyone else.

Marigold Avenue
 

KC: Your project, The Hidden Suburbs, focused on capturing the often overlooked diversity of suburbs. You photographed immigrant, biracial, and same-sex families within Minnesota suburbs. What ignited your interest in exploring this subject?

LM: There are several factors that inspired The Hidden Suburbs. I live in the city of Minneapolis and teach in the northern suburbs. Like many city dwellers I thought of the suburbs as this monolithic, bland place full of white evangelical Christian Republicans. I saw them heading to a Mega Church on Sunday and homeschooling their kids. Suburbanites sought out a uniformity and familiarity that felt safe devoid of anything different. During my commute I saw the suburban boom, day in and day out. One day I thought about the people I know who live there, they did not fit into my stereotype of a suburbanite and that sparked by curiosity. I began my quest to find a diverse suburb.

KC: In this current political climate, this series feel just as relevant as when it was released. How has this heightened rhetoric about immigration played into the work you’re doing now?

LM: This is a great question because the demographics of suburbia are changing rapidly and are already showing a political shift blue. New immigrants are moving directly to the suburbs, skipping the traditional inner city enclaves of previous immigration patterns. They are seizing the American dream of a house in the suburbs right away. As a result areas that were once European and Christian are increasingly non – white, and non – Christian. The political impact is beginning to show as inner ring suburbs have become more liberal and tolerant of diversity.

Goodhue Street
 

KC: You’re currently in London lecturing to Kingston College’s American studies students about suburbia. How has it been getting to hear outside perspectives of American culture, has it challenged your view of suburbia or the country’s culture in any way?

LM: These students have a good understanding about the United States and are interested in the relationship between the US and England. They know that the American suburban idea is rooted in English country life, but we added an egalitarian component that cuts across class. The English manor house did not have that but over time the English and American suburbs grew to be similar. It is also what sets us apart from Europe, where the suburbs are slums and the inner city is posh and expensive.

KC: Is there a piece of advice that you’d wish you known when you were in your student’s shoes that you make sure to share with them?

LM: Yes I do. The creative process is a disciplined practice, not some spontaneous outburst due to mental illness, grief, angst etc… A successful artist works on a regular basis, making both good and bad art. They don’t wait for inspiration they seek it out.

Egret Street
 

KC: Where do you find inspiration for your photographs?

LM: Inspiration for my photographs come from what ever is capturing my attention long enough to hold it. Largely the work is a result of what I find interesting in a moment, and I am compelled to explore that topic. That said I am often attracted to architecture, buildings, houses, and how people relate to their shelter. In both The Hidden Suburbs and the following series Occidente Nuevo: Recycled Tijuana portraits were an integral part of the image. The work I am doing now is devoid of people.

KC: What’s next for you?

LM: I am currently working on a series of abandoned homes, called Absentia: Abandoned Past. The series Absentia: Abandoned Past explores spaces in a state of abandonment or unexpected departure, creating a feeling of being animated and inhabited but absent at the same time. I am interested in the in between period in the life of the house, the transition from one era to another in the lifetime of the place. Houses are like the human body; they are born fresh, clean, and full of hope. The home ages, adapts, and sags; occupants leave traces but take their memories with them. A house may be reborn and be rehabilitated; sometimes it dies and becomes a memory.

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Our Views from the Heartland series is a new series we started to give some recognition to the incredible photographers who submit their photos to us regularly. In it, we talk with some of our favorite photographers who we feel capture the essence of the Midwest in their incredible photos. Each month, we’ll post a new interview with a photographer in which we discuss their creative process, the intersection of photography and literature, and other fascinating topics.

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