This blog was featured on 09/01/2016
Five Questions for...Anna Leahy

This week's winner of our new "15K" contest -- which will feature the writer who referred the most new members each week from now until we hit the 15,000 member mark -- is ANNA LEAHY!  (WE LOVE YOU ANNA!)  SW Founder Kamy Wicoff asked her Five Questions...invite writers to join SW, and next week, it could be you!

Kamy Wicoff: Tell us about yourself and the kind of writing you do.

Anna Leahy: I am a poet by training, and my book Constituents of Matter won the Wick Poetry Prize. Among other topics, the book deals with the death of my father when he was 53 and I was 21. I continue to write and publish poems; I enjoy that genre immensely and think poetry is really important these days. Language, narrative, and metaphor are among the most human of endeavors.

I've also branched out. The most recent issue of The Southern Review includes my essay "Strange Attraction: John Wayne and Me," which is part of a book project I've tentatively entitled Proving Ground. This essay starts to get at what it means to have been born into the Cold War. I'm especially proud of this piece, and also very saddened that the journal's editor, Jeanne Leiby, died in a car accident last week.

I co-write the blog Lofty Ambitions, too, and that's really pushed me as a writer. We're doing pieces there about the end of the space shuttle program (we have media credentials for the next launch!), the recent nuclear accident in Japan (we're in the middle of a series related to what radioactivity really means), and writing as a couple. It's been a long time since I had weekly deadlines imposed, so I'm finding that great for staying focused, mulling over possible writing topics all the time, but writing a blog is more demanding than I had expected. Between the blog and the memoir project, I'm excited about the whole range of creative nonfiction.

Kamy Wicoff: Your website describes you as an "Author, Scholar and Teacher."  How do these three identities inform each other? Does your work as a scholar and teacher impact your poetry?

Anna Leahy: I'm curious. I like to work in different modes, to write in different genres, and to test ideas with different approaches. The essays I'm writing now share subject matter with poems I've been writing for the past few years, and both are informed by earlier scholarly work. I've collaborated with Doug Dechow to do scholarly articles on how aviation museums represent World War II, and I've worked with art historian Debora Rindge on articles and presentations. Of course, my collaboration with Doug has led relatively directly to Lofty Ambitions, our blog, which isn't scholarly. And some of what we've written for the blog is triggering things for my essays and poems. Though my interests and accomplishments sometimes may look all over the place from the outside, they're all very intertwined from my point of view.

I'm now teaching almost all creative writing classes, most of which are poetry. That keeps me reading and talking about poetry with others who are interested in it, which is great for a writer. I've done quite a bit of scholarly work on creative writing pedagogy, too. I'm fascinated by what it means to teach, how I can foster creativity in others, and so on. Because my students at Chapman University are writers too, we're all in this together. But it's my responsibility to help them figure it out, which helps me keep figuring out this writing life too. Of course, everything--writing, research, teaching (and its related service)--competes for my time, and the student at hand has to take priority during the semester.

Kamy Wicoff: We absolutely LOVE the project you launched on She Writes, first with your post, "A Submission Movement: Send Out One Dozen Submissions This Month" and then with your follow-up post, "The Submission Mission: A Project Statement", which also launched a new SW chat!  Tell us about your motivation for the project.

Anna Leahy: In February, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts came out with a  report and a bunch of pie charts that indicated a significant gender disparity among what some of the top periodicals for literary writing were publishing. A lot of buzz ensued, and I was pretty appalled. Then, editors started piping up that the disparity in publication rate matched the disparity in submission rate. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that top periodicals (and even not-so-top journals) get fewer submissions from women, but I was because I know a lot of women who are writing.

I started "The Submission Mission" and the SW chat because I don't want editors to let themselves off the hook just because they aren't seeing enough work by women. I don't want anyone to point a finger at us and say it's our own fault that our writing isn't in print. The conversations on blogs and on Facebook started reminding me of things I'd heard in women's studies classes twenty-five years ago, and I figured one way to move beyond that back-tracking is to change the gendered-ness of the submission pool.

Of course, then I looked at my own submission record and saw I hadn't sent out much work recently myself. I'm not phased by rejection too much, I had finished pieces that needed a home, and I have a simple submission-tracking system for myself. In other words, I was in a good position to get things into the hands of editors, so why wasn't I doing it? If I'm not actively submitting, how can I expect others to take up the slack? I wrote those statements to nudge myself and others, others thanked me for it, and I'm happy that She Writes is promoting the idea with the monthly chat.

Kamy Wicoff: What is the biggest challenge you've ever faced as a writer, and how did you overcome it? (Or not?)

Anna Leahy: I don't think in terms of "the biggest challenge." I find challenges every time I sit down to write, and that may be why I keep doing it. When I'm having a really busy week, the Wednesday deadline for our regular blog post is sometimes an enormous challenge, but that's something to be written through, not overcome.

I've been working on a novel called The Undone Years for, well, several undone years. I sent a revised draft to an agent last fall. She didn't take the book, but she said positive things and offered good criticism. It's been a challenge to revise the novel, in part because something big and whole is difficult to rethink in its parts and in part because I need a stretch of time (to keep it all in my head while I rethink) but had already started other writing projects. Again, this challenge is one I need to write through, not overcome, and it's one that I welcome.

It's important to welcome challenges as a writer because that makes you a better writer and makes the writing better. It's the challenges that I face in life--ones that would challenge anyone, whether or not a writer--that must be overcome. Life's challenges can throw a writer off more than the challenges one faces as a writer. Making sure that life's challenges (everything from weekly--hah, weekly is optimistic--housecleaning to catastrophic illness) don't distract too much from writing, especially the writing time, is probably a challenge most writers face. Time might be the biggest challenge generally for writers because it is constant, with unexpected surprises.

Kamy Wicoff: What are you working on now?  Plug your work, woman -- you earned it!

Anna Leahy: As you can see from my other answers, I can't really talk about myself as a writer without talking about what I'm working on!

Of course, I want everyone to take a look at our blog. We're covering a lot of ground and doing some interesting things with that short form.

Several of my poems will appear soon at Zócalo Public Square, and "Hiroshima's Secrets" appears in the just-published anthology Don't Blame the Ugly Mug. I also have book reviews coming out in American Book Review and Connotation Press.

Some fellow Facebook friends, Jake Adam York among them, have been advocating subscribing to one literary journal every month if you can afford it. I suggest one start, of course, with The Southern Review, where my new essay appears, and then maybe Fifth Wednesday Journal, for which I guest edited awhile back. The point is to read and to support the less commercial, more literary end of what we're doing as writers. Someone else suggested buying one hardback book at a physical bookstore once a month, as we negotiate the future of book publishing. As much as we need to plug ourselves, we also need to support each other--and that means reading, as well as cheering each other on.

If you're teaching creative writing, take a look at a two-part conversation essay about "Where Are We Going Next?" that I wrote with Cathy Day and Stephanie Vanderslice at The Fiction Writers Review.  We did another piece for Toad Suck Review. If you're really serious about pedagogy, I also recommend the books Does the Writing Workshop Still Work? and my own collection Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom.

Let's be friends

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