Jennifer Case is the author of Sawbill: A Search for Place (University of New Mexico Press, 2018). Her essays have appeared in journals such as the Rumpus, Orion, Michigan Quarterly Review, Sycamore Review, Fourth River, and the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas and serves as the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of Terrain.org. You can find her at www.jenniferlcase.com.
1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?
Scott Russell Sanders or Robin Wall Kimmerer. I’d love to be the kind of writer who has a long, sustained and sustaining career, who writes meaningful work and yet remains grounded, and who is known for kindness and authenticity towards students.
2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
“Favorite” isn’t quite the right word, because writing them hasn’t been carefree and easy in the way “favorite” implies, but probably the collection of essays on motherhood that I’ve been working on the last five years (see “A Political Pregnancy” in the Rumpus as an example). The essays take a lot of risks and really dig into complex issues. They have been difficult and rewarding to write, and looking back at them, I’m proud of the work I did personally and intellectually to create them.
3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?
No one, at least at first. I’m pretty protective of early drafts and need the freedom that privacy and space allow. Once I’ve sat with them for a while, however, I have a few close writing friends who I trust with early drafts and whose feedback I deeply value.
4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
1. Be ambitious.
2. Be kind to your younger self (I think this is crucial in nonfiction).
3. Don’t forget to play.
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?
I get this response a lot in the undergraduate courses I teach, where students tend to come in with fairly negative preconceptions of nonfiction (think 5-paragraph theme paper). One of my favorite things to do as a teacher, as a result, is to upend those preconceptions. Nonfiction is so malleable and can do much more than we expect. Just look at Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias, and Elizabeth Rush’s Rising. They are all very, very different—and very, very good—and they are all nonfiction.