Sonya Huber, author of the Shebook Two Eyes Are Never Enough, shares her thoughts about memoir, the Common Core, and her past life as a trash collector.
Is there anything that you consider too personal to write about? How do you find that edge?
I generally try to avoid writing about my son’s life in any great detail, although I’ll mention anecdotes that include him as a way to get into a topic about myself that I’m investigating. I avoid writing about my relationship with my husband because it’s not troubling, and I generally write about trouble.
Have you ever written anything personal that upset people who were close to you? Have you ever shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?
I had someone close to me get upset because I didn’t put her in a memoir—when I thought people hated to be written about. I thought I was doing her a favor, but it turns out there’s no “perfect” in memoir. I shy away from a few (OK, maybe hundreds of) topics that I know would hurt people, but I’ve still hurt people I loved by writing about them, even if I hid their identity and agonized and did it with the utmost of care. It’s just weird to be written about, and it’s great for a memoir writer to have someone else write about them. I’ve had that opportunity, and it’s instructive. I only write about something that might be hard for someone else if I can’t not write about it. And then I worry about it for three to five years first.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?
Apply for writers’ residencies before you have kids. Shoot big with your applications and your submissions. Study the places that you’d die of joy to be published in, and then hound them with your submissions, and don’t give up. (Those are a list of my mistakes flipped around into advice, so I don’t actually know much of what you should do. I just know what I did wrong. I didn’t think of myself as having the potential to be a “real” literary writer until I was 30, so I missed some time rubbing elbows with people, getting my work out there, and going to writerly places.)
And here are a few things I did right: develop a second skill related to writing, like copyediting, proofreading, digital design, Web stuff, reporting, and so on. You can get paying work that way, and you never know when it will come in handy for creative projects.
Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?
I’m an associate professor at Fairfield University, but I was once a trash collector, a failed environmental canvasser, and a nude model for an art class.
What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?
I make a mean stuffed cabbage, but most cooking stresses me out.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two books simultaneously, which is how I like to do things. One is an essayistic memoir about what it means to be a witness to substance abuse, and the other is a book for teachers about how the literary essay might find a home in the Common Core (the revised national curriculum adopted by most states).
Read about Sonya Huber’s experience working in Direct Care in Two Eyes Are Never Enough.