To Wit: Flash Interviews–Beth Dooley

Beth Dooley is the author of In Winter’s Kitchen: Growing Roots and Breaking Bread in the Northern Heartland, a Minnesota Book Award finalist. She has also written six cookbooks, including, with Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (winner of the James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook); with Lucia Watson, Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland (a James Beard Nominee); and Minnesota’s Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook. She is also a Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. She writes for the Star TribuneMpls St. Paul Magazine, and The Heavy Table, and is a regular guest on Minnesota Public Radio’s Appetites with Tom Crann and KARE 11 (NBC) television. Dooley lives in Minneapolis. 

1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?

I am a huge fan of Laurie Colwin — author of several short story collections as well as the two wonderful food memoirs — Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, both pulled from the column she wrote for Gourmet Magazine (oh do I miss that!) Two of my favorite of her essays are “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” about living in NYC as a young single person;  , “Repulsive Dinners: a Memoir,”  … Others include recipes I’ve memorized. Her gingerbread is the best. In her essay,  “Why I love cookbooks,” She write, “I realize the reason I love cookbooks is that cookbooks leave out all the other stuff. You don’t have to find out about family relationships. It’s just like Barbara Pym, but there’s no novel! Just the food.” Bravo!

2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

Hmm … I’m quite fond of the chapter “Apples”, In Winter’s Kitchen. 

3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?

I trust my son Kip, who I partner with on Bare Bones Cooking. He has a terrific eye for shape and flow … and Kevin, my husband, who is an attorney is a brilliant copy editor … and is something of an ever-person reader. If something I write bores him, I know to go back and try again. 

4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Best writing advice is to sit down for whatever length of time you’ve decided to write; stay there even if you don’t put one word on the page. Thomas Williams (whose novel Whipples Castle shared the National Book Award with Catch 22) once he showed up at his desk for 3 hours every morning and considered it “writing” even though often whittled wood for most of that time. When patient, something usually shows up.

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 often direct writers to Karen Babine’s All the Wild Hungers because it weaves together so many genres — cooking as well as history, philosophy, religion, culture. It’s a great example of “creative non-fiction”. When Sean Sherman and I were working on The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen he was humble and insightful enough to imagine dishes based on his research regardless of documentation.  (I’m a fan of Hillary Mantel’s the Thomas More trilogy and her historically accurate novel about the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, as well as her memoir, Giving up the Ghost. 

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