Up next is Nick Courtright, National Poetry Award finalist and leader of tomorrow night’s poetry/flash fiction workshop.
Where are you from?
I am from Stow, Ohio, which is outside Akron, which is south of Cleveland, northeast of Columbus, west of Pittsburgh, and in the middle of everywhere. For the first few years in Texas I could not bear the heat, but I think I’ve gotten used to it.
Where did you study?
I received my undergraduate degree in Written Expression from Ohio University, and my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Texas State University in San Marcos. Since then, I have studied mostly on the internet, in the pages of texts long and short, and via audiobook.
How did you get your start as a writer?
Via a willingness to stay in at recess. When I was in elementary school, my little girlfriend and I had an affinity for a particularly kind student teacher. This teacher encouraged us to write stories, so I did, staying in while others played to work on strange tales of mischief and adventure. In middle school I wrote mostly comic work, with the focus residing squarely on the brand of humor found in the bathroom. By high school I was writing 300 page international thrillers which will never see the light of day, so hilariously bad they are. In college I discovered the fine art of poetry, which, after I got all my angst out, I realized was a useful medium for philosophy and trying to discover “truth.”
Language is a weird thing—there’s a lot we do with it, a lot of beauty we can make. I can’t seem to escape it.
Who are some of your influences?
My influences are largely in the mystic and religious traditions, including the Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Rumi, Walt Whitman, William Blake, and the Bible. More literarily, I have been greatly affected by Franz Wright, Hemingway, Lorca, Frank Bidart, Robert Bly, T.S. Eliot, Nabokov, and Salinger. Influences are everywhere: I’m also gravely indebted to microwaves, televisions, automobiles, trees, grass, water, children, dogs, people, the city, the country, and everything else we know and cannot know.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Doing it. I’m a big fan of revision—I love tinkering with material after it’s already been written. The hard part is writing it in the first place—that first draft is my terror. Once I have that clay, though, I enjoy molding it and turning it into all sorts of crazy figures. But you have to have the clay.
What’s the last book you read and what did you think of it?
I’m usually working on multiple books at a time, because I can’t bear to stick on just one thing. I don’t know whether this is good or bad. But it does mean that right now I’ve been chewing through the Old Testament (I’ve gotten through the first ten books, which means Kings is on deck), a delightful and wicked book of poetry called I am Your Slave, Now Do What I Say by Anthony Madrid, and the nonfiction work Collapse by Jared Diamond, about how civilizations fall apart. They are all good, and when I’m done with them, I’ll find some more.
What’s the last movie you saw that was based on a book and how was it?
I used to teach a class at Southwestern University called “Great Film, Great Lit,” which was all about film adaptations of books—there are so many good ones, and so many awful ones. My favorite combo is No Country for Old Men, book by Cormac McCarthy, film by the Coen brothers. Both manners of that work are brilliantly well done. As for most recent, I’d have to say The Godfather; I’ve seen it many times over the years, but it’s still a stark and excellent work. Mario Puzo, who wrote the book, also co-wrote the screenplay, and it’s always interesting to see how an author translates his or her own work across media. Another example of this is in the old film version of Lolita, by Nabokov—in the film screenplay, he moved the end of the book to the beginning. I’ve always found that decision strange and interesting.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Have faith. Don’t stop. Read. Write. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep everything. Edit mercilessly. Stay humble. Have fun.
Bio: Nick Courtright is the author of Punchline, a National Poetry Award finalist called “nothing short of a knockout” by Boston Review editor Timothy Donnelly. His writing has appeared in The Southern Review, Massachusetts Review, Kenyon Review Online, and The Iowa Review, among many others, and a chapbook, Elegy for the Builder’s Wife, is available from Blue Hour Press. He’s Interviews Editor of the Austinist, and he teaches English, Humanities, and Philosophy at a number of local colleges and universities. An MFA-recipient at Texas State University, he now lives in East Austin with his wife and son. Find him on the internet at nickcourtright.com.