As I’ve mentioned, some of my favorite residencies also host writers, composers, musicians, and other creatives. It makes for great dialog and cross-pollination of ideas. This is my first interview with a writer, and I was excited to reach out to Amherst-based writer, and fellow Middlebury College alum, Emily Lackey, to talk with her about her work. We connected several years ago when Emily and I were awarded back to back artist residencies at Newnan ArtRez in Newnan, GA (one artist or writer is hosted at a time for a one month residency.)
Photo Credit (above and below): Colin Conces.
Ingrid Erickson: For those of us who aren’t yet familiar, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work…
Emily Lackey: Thanks for having me, Ingrid! I’m a writer of mostly short stories and essays, but last year I started writing a book-length work of nonfiction about friendship, autonomy, loneliness, and love, and it’s been my sole focus ever since.
Ingrid Erickson: How has the global pandemic impacted your practice?
Emily Lackey: I’m a bit superstitious when it comes to the places that I write. Some writers have little totems and rituals that are built into their practice, but that’s never been me. Instead, if I have a successful writing day in a coffee shop, library, or café, I will convince myself that I have to return there every day until the story or essay is done. So getting out of the house and going somewhere else is a big part of my process. The biggest impact the pandemic has had on my work is not having anywhere to go! It’s definitely slowed down my work, but I’m trying to orchestrate ways around it. Thankfully the weather is warm, so writing outside has become a big part of my practice.
Ingrid Erickson: As a writer, what do you look for in a residency? What do you need in order to do your work?
Emily Lackey: I look for residencies where I can focus entirely on my work. Residencies that require a project submission or work exchange aren’t really for me.
Ingrid Erickson: Can you share some of your best residency moments? What made them so good?
Emily Lackey: The book I’m working on actually takes place in a residency, so this is at the front of my mind these days! I think the moments that stand out the most to me from my residencies were the ones in which my confidence in my work grew. I really learned from the other artists there how to be a professional working artist, the sacrifices that requires, and the determination it takes.
Ingrid Erickson: What does a work day look like for you usually? These days???
Emily Lackey: I try to devote my afternoons to writing. I get my paid work done in the mornings (I’m the Assistant Director of Writers in Progress, a writing studio in Northampton, Massachusetts) and teach workshops in the evenings, so the afternoons are my time to write. Right now I’m revising and working on a book proposal, so that is taking up the majority of those afternoon hours. If I can, I like to set aside one weekend day to go over what I’ve worked on that week. In the pre-pandemic days, that would involve an indulgent solo brunch with delicious food and cocktails. These days I settle for a home-packed picnic and a field.
Ingrid Erickson: Like so many of us in creative fields, you also teach. How does this support/engage with your own practice?
Emily Lackey: The workshops I teach are mostly generative, so my work as a teacher directly supports my work as a writer. I get a considerable amount of writing done in my workshops. Sometimes it’s the only writing I do! The way the workshops are run (we follow the AWA method of teaching) feels supportive and encouraging, which means I usually leave the workshops feeling inspired, invigorated, and connected. If you can find an online workshop or group right now, I highly recommend it. It’s a significant source of connection for me these days.
Ingrid Erickson: Have you read anything recently that really resonates with you right now?
Emily Lackey: I’m deeply interested in different relationship structures, so I devoured Luster by Raven Leilani in a day. The sentences are so surprising, the plot is propulsive, and it’s funny. Like really, really funny. If you’re looking for a book you can’t put down, I highly recommend it.
Ingrid Erickson: Can you share an excerpt of your work (recent or not so recent)…and provide a bit of context for us.
Emily Lackey: Sure! I’ve been spending this summer trying to find the right beginning to my book, and after much work shopping and revising, I think I’ve found it:
If the story of those two years of my life were to follow the rules of a traditional narrative, then it would start at the bottom: with me sitting on the kitchen floor and Sean, my boyfriend at the time, standing next to me, leaning his weight against the fern colored cabinets in the home we had been renting for the past year. We were both exhausted. I had been trying to convince him all night to tell me what it was he had been keeping from me. I was still in my pajamas, my hair tangled from where I had been twisting it between my fingers. I wanted to know, I told him. I needed to know.
When it came to Sean, I had followed all the rules. The kind of rules women in their twenties and thirties adopt in order to find love, become happy, and stay safe. Don’t sleep with a man until the third date. Relationships are hard work. Learn to compromise. I had spent the last five years of my life with Sean compromising, reassuring myself that nothing good ever came easy.
These rules had dictated my life like something inherited. And I had inherited them. Over the course of my life, I had unconsciously accumulated what my family, my upbringing, my geography, and my generation deemed good and bad, right and wrong. As a child of the early eighties, I came of age during a decade when divorce rates were at their highest—in my immediate family of six, there were seven—and I had come to believe that if I followed the rules, if I did the opposite of what my mother and father and brother and sister did, I would be saved from their same fate.
So I followed the rules, and following them led me here, sitting on the wood floor of the small ranch that I shared with boyfriend, watching the early morning light inch its way across the floor toward us. Sean was standing above me, dressed in his navy work shirt and pants, tired from an entire night of fighting. He was sick of it, I could tell, ready to give up and go.
It was March in Massachusetts. If something was going to change, we had picked the right season.
Photo credit above: Emily Lackey.
Ingrid Erickson: Where can we access more of your work?
Emily Lackey: You can access more work on my website: www.emilylackey.com. I’m also tweeting and Instagramming @emilyklackey.
Ingrid Erickson: Have you developed any pandemic hobbies or new ways of doing things?
Emily Lackey: I started an online support group for writers that meets online weekly, and that has been such an incredible source of strength and community. Last week, especially, I seemed to have hit a real wall in my work and well-being, and having a well-established group to fall back on and be lifted by was so reassuring.
Ingrid Erickson: What are some of your future goals?
Emily Lackey: My immediate goals are to finish my book proposal and get the book sold! I plan to send it out in early 2021, so I’ll be spending the first half of the New Year with all my fingers and toes crossed, hoping that it sells.
Photo Credit: Emily Lackey.