To Wit: Flash Interviews–Donald Quist

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

The background on my chrome book is a picture of Argentine writer César Aira. In the image he’s in a public square. He’s holding a pole across his shoulder covered with several dozen balloons and inflatable cartoon characters that include Spider-Man, Minions, and Dora the Explorer. Aira has a wry smile, like he’s got a fun secret. He’s older, 72, he’s published over a hundred books of prose, but there’s this sense of whimsy flowing from him that makes him seem young. I aspire to Aira’s productivity, and his playful approach to art and life.

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

Typically, the favorite thing I’ve written is whatever project I’ve just started. My favorite thing is a piece that no one else has seen yet, a work not promised to an editor or agent, that hasn’t been announced. The fact that no one really knows anything about what I’m writing removes any worry about the expectations of others.  I feel freer to try new forms, approaches, methods, and craft techniques. For example, right now my favorite thing I’ve ever written is a novel I started last fall. It’s a story about someone returning to their hometown in Savannah, Georgia, for their estranged sister’s wedding, and it is told against a contemporary reimagining of General William Sherman’s march to sea during the American Civil War. My attempt is to create a personal, alternative-modern-history, geopolitical fiction piece centered on ongoing refugee crises caused by climate change… And now that I’ve shared this, soon it will no longer be my favorite. 

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

Tatiana Ryckman has edited three of my books with Awst Press. She has somewhat ruined other editors for me. Ryckman has so often pushed me to realize the things I really want to say. I have some trusted friends and writers who are always willing to read something for me when I think the piece I’m working on fits within their aesthetic: Kali VanBaale, Nicole Brown, Bridgid Bender, and several others.  I’m also lucky to be engaged to one of my favorite authors, Bailey Gaylin Moore. She is often an early reader for me. 

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

“All Memory is Fiction.” – Kwame Dawes / This blew my mind as a young writer. This maxim forced me to recognize that my perception was not reality for others. I’m so grateful for the gift of this lesson. It has made me more thoughtful and nuanced in my approach to nonfiction.

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?

“His Last Game” by Brian Doyle. My friend Patrick Madden has written about this essay for Assay. Madden highlights much of what I love about the piece. To me it is a rare moment where the five key elements of storytelling I teach in my creative writing workshops (narration, voice, metaphor, style and meaningful gaps) are so clearly, and successfully, accomplished. I’m left wanting nothing more. That narrative always leaves me with a sense of satisfaction. The emotionality comes through in every clause. It also has this enduring readability. Every time I return to it, I find some new movement and nuance. 

Donald Quist is author of two essay collections, Harbors, a Foreword INDIES Bronze Winner and International Book Awards Finalist, and TO THOSE BOUNDED (forthcoming). He has a linked story collection, For Other Ghosts. His writing has appeared in AGNI, North American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, and was Notable in Best American Essays 2018. He is creator of the online nonfiction series PAST TEN. Donald has received fellowships from Sundress Academy for the Arts, Kimbilio Fiction, and served as a Gus T. Ridgel fellow for the English PhD program at University of Missouri. He is Director of the MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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