Up first–by dint of being born an Adams–is Steve Adams. Below is a Q&A with Steve, followed by a brief bio.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. But I got my undergraduate degree at UT and afterward lived in Austin as a slacker/young local playwright-poet, while I worked at Whole Foods. Austin is one of my soul’s homes. I lived in New York City from 1998 to 2009. I also lived there for shorter periods earlier. It’s one of my soul’s homes too.
Where did you study?
I studied at UT for a number of years with the incredible poet/teacher Albert Goldbarth who’s now at Wichita State University. He let me audit his courses semester after semester. Another mentor who I’ll always be grateful for is Webster Smalley who taught playwriting in the Theater Dept. at UT. He took me under his wing and took a chance putting my admittedly offbeat plays on his stage. Years later in New York City I got my MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) at the New School where I studied with Jill Ciment, Jonathan Dee, and Jeffrey Allen, among other wonderful teachers.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I was an acting major at UT – not because I could act, but because I was lost, along with a lot of other people there. When they kicked me out of the program (I didn’t pass second-year jury) I stumbled into Goldbarth’s poetry class. And I knew after being lost for so many years I’d found home. These people were my people. I’ve not been able to stop writing since, even though I’ve tried.
Who are some of your influences?
Before I finally found my truest form, prose writing, I explored singing, jazz guitar, acting, poetry writing, playwriting, and screenwriting. I don’t understand why it took me so long to begin writing prose, but I know the wide range of artistic disciplines I explored before have strongly impacted my writing as well as my approach to craft. Through these studies I also learned the ways different kinds of artists approach creating, and how one works within the limitations and freedoms of each. The one common denominator to all forms, and all true working artists, is that single word: work. You have to show up regularly and not wait for inspiration. Inspiration will show up after you do on a good day, and on a bad day you can still get work done without it. As far as individuals who’ve impacted my work, I think of Sam Shepard’s fearlessness in his plays and Patti Smith’s fearlessness in her songs and performances. As far as prose writers, I stumbled across Jayne Anne Phillips’s short story collections Black Tickets and Fast Lanes at the same time years back, and they opened my eyes to what was possible in prose, especially if you were, again, fearless. Being a southerner I can’t help but feel an affinity to southern gothic (especially Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor). Three novels that I connected to deeply, that I think of often, are Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, and Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex. I also have a soft spot for genre books and B-movies, and no doubt I’m influenced by that too. Then there’s Joseph Campbell.
What is your favorite thing about educating writers at WBN?
I love being involved in the process. For me, writing is the most extraordinary, challenging, and nourishing way of living I could’ve ever imagined finding. It’s a deep, mysterious discipline that gives to you, so long as you give to it. One way I give to it and serve it is by helping writers find their way; another is the writing itself. Such is simply the work I need to do. A bonus, for me personally, is the engagement with other writers about their work. It’s a privilege to be invited into another writer’s process, to witness their sudden insights as well as frustrations, to see them continue to work onward even when the going is tough, to be there for their breakthroughs, and finally, to witness their courage. Because it takes a particular kind of courage to write. Writing calls you to be courageous.
What is your strangest writing experience?
Years back during one of my lives in New York I became fascinated by all the Elvis worship (I don’t know what else to call it), especially in Memphis. Seeing thousands of people carrying candles by Graceland on the anniversary of his death kicked off an idea for a one-act play called “Velvet Elvis” that received a small, quality production not long after. Afterward I found myself filled with enthusiasm (probably bordering on obsession) and wrote two more Elvis one-acts to create a trilogy I called The Elvis Trinity.
Jump to: years later I’m back in Austin recovering from two years in Hollywood (I thought erroneously I was supposed to be a screenwriter) where I gave up writing forever. Or so I thought. Part of my temperament seems to be that I must write. And after about three months of not writing I began to go batty. I told myself to forget the fantasy of money and acclaim, and all the Hollywood games, and just write for me. Write because it’s what I need to do. And so I began, for really the first time in my life, consciously writing pure prose. It felt like I was a horse that had just thrown off its yoke and bit and bridle to find underneath it was a racehorse. I ran and ran and ran. Even then I didn’t think of writing for publication. But my fourth attempt at a story seemed promising. I mentioned it to a friend who handed me an entry form for a contest for a journal I’d never heard of called Glimmer Train. Almost as an afterthought I sent it in.
Months later a friend in NYC told me he was moving back to Austin and wanted me to ride in the truck with him on the drive back. It seemed like a potentially fun road trip, so I flew up to join him. Spending the night in Memphis was going to be the highlight of the trip back. Sleep deprived and listening to a CD of gospel music we’d picked up at a truckstop, we pulled into Memphis at sundown. We found our motel (complete with a guitar-shaped pool and 24-hour Elvis movies by request) across the street from Graceland, parked our enormous truck in the lot, and took a cab down to Beale Street where we loaded up on southern cooking and some amazing blues. We got back to the motel, sated and happy and delirious, at midnight. When my friend stepped into the bathroom and I decided to check my messages. There waiting on it was one of the editors at Glimmer Train telling me I’d won their New Writer’s Award. Over my left shoulder, Elvis was on the TV singing and dancing. The synchronicity of all this was ridiculous. I keep an Elvis bust somewhere in my apartment to this day. I dare not do otherwise.
What’s the last movie you saw that was based on a book and how was it?
I’m not sure this is the last movie I’ve seen based on a book, but it was the one that most powerfully comes to mind at this question. That would be The Hours. What I find extraordinary about the film is how closely it follows the book even though, like the book, it interweaves three different narratives. It’s shocking really, to see a film (or even a novel) that successfully blends together what I can only think of as a group protagonist, which is the three women portrayed. This, structurally, is highly irregular business, and yet it is astoundingly successful. Somehow these three women’s stories weave around each other into a single braid, and you come away with your breath taken from you, not even noticing the fact that there’s no one protagonist. It took real daring on the part of the filmmakers to follow Cunningham’s structure. Thank God for those in Hollywood who have the guts to trust literature.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
It’s worth it. If you can make your writing about your writing and not about all the trappings that come with it, it can support your life in ways you could never have imagined. To have a discipline (and to me, a spiritual discipline) such as this will help get you through the hardest of times, as well as brighten the best. You will create meaning where there was none, where it is needed, and meaning appears to be something that humans cannot live without, or at least not for very long.
Ironically, I believe your best chance of commercial success comes not from chasing commercial success; it comes from following your heart, serving your discipline, and staying true to your course. If you follow your vision and write from passion (and of course, be smart, pay attention to the business side too, however you can), your work will be more unique and simply better than it would have been otherwise. Which will make it more marketable, even as it makes it more meaningful to you personally.
As Michael Ventura once said, “Our dreams are important not because they come true, but because they take you places you would never have otherwise gone, and teach you what you never guessed was there to learn.” So begin the dream. Go to those places. Show us what you’ve seen.
Steve Adams’s short stories have been published in Glimmer Train, The Missouri Review, Chicago Review, Quarterly West, and Georgetown Review. His memoir/creative nonfiction has been published in Willow Springs and The Pinch. He’s won Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and The Bronx Writer’s Center “Chapter One” Contest. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and anthologized, and his plays and musicals have been produced in New York City and across the country. He’s judged writing competitions and grant applications, been a guest artist at The University of Texas, and guest lectured at NYU.
Steve studied creative nonfiction as a scholar at the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony and creative coaching with Dr. Eric Maisel. He received his BA in Theater from The University of Texas and his MFA in Creative Writing from The New School in New York City. His work has been used as a teaching text at major universities as well as in the public high schools.
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- Austin friends: Carolyn Cohagan will talk about & sign TIME ZERO, her new YA novel, 3:00 p.m. at BookPeople: https://t.co/hAvG6RXr6g