Joanna Eleftheriou [she|her|hers] is the author of the essay collection This Way Back (West Virginia University Press, 2020). A fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Joanna has published stories, essays, poems, and translations in journals including Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, and The Common. She is an assistant professor of English at Christopher Newport University and a faculty member at the Writing Workshops in Greece. Find her on Twitter at @JOANNAessayist and online at www.joannaeleftheriou.com
1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?
James Baldwin. I admire the humility with which he renders his own oppression and the power with which he links the spiritual and the political. He insists that we look into the human heart in all its ugliness and glory.
2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
My essay “Moonlight,” which I renamed “Moonlight Elegy” and used as the epilogue of This Way Back.
3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?
Beth Peterson. She figures out what’s at the heart. Beth also suggests structural changes that work.
4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I can’t think of any particularly good advice I’ve received. (Sorry.) Here are some favorite Woolf quotes instead:
“Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm.”
“What art can the essayist use in these short lengths of prose to sting us wide awake and fix us in a trance which is not sleep but rather an intensification of life—a basking, with every faculty alert, in the sun of pleasure? He must know—that is the first essential—how to write.”
5. What’s your go to recommendation to read when somebody says “I’m not sure about this whole nonfiction thing?” Why? What do you hope it shows them? What about it excites you?
No one says that to me! But if they did, I’d suggest a recent, narrative essay that packs a philosophical and emotional punch, such as Courtney Zoffness’s “Spilt Milk.” A lyric essay like those Lia Purpura writes demands that the reader participate a little more in the meaning-making, and requires the reading skills we typically learn from reading poetry. Most American readers read and watch more narrative than poetry nowadays, so a work of nonfiction that brings forth meaning from scenes will serve as a better starting point.