In the Spotlight
Incline Village, Nevada Member Since: 2006
About: Kelle Groom is the author of three poetry collections: Five Kingdoms, Luckily, and Underwater City. Her memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers and a New York Times Book Review editor’s pick for 2011. She has held residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ucross Foundation, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and the Black Mountain Institute. For 2012-13, Groom will be the distinguished writer-in-residence at Sierra Nevada College, where she is also on the faculty of the college’s low-residency MFA program.
What is the first book you loved?
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I loved Mistress of Mellyn, a gothic novel by Victoria Holt (pseudonym for Eleanor Hibbert). She wrote almost 200 historical novels under various names, many of which I read. In my eighth grade English class, I wrote my own gothic novel, The Inheritance. It takes place in Satellite Beach, Florida and in a castle in England where two teenaged girls travel for an arts residency. One girl disappears, and the other tries to find her. I got an A-.
Is there a particular writer you’d like to meet?
There are so many living writers I’d like to meet! The list includes J.M. Coetzee, Elie Wiesel, and Anne Michaels. I would loved to have met Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Janet Frame, Kenneth Koch…
When and where do you do your best work?
Ideally, I would be at a table with my laptop, books, notes, quiet. But if I’m writing out in the world, other things can happen. When I’m working to create a new piece, trying to discover the form and going down into it, I need my own four walls. Silence, or at least an iPod turned up loud enough to drown out any outside noise. I prefer to work at night, and usually sleep when the room gets light. Revision can start in those early morning hours. If I’m really caught up in a new piece of writing, I’ll write until I can’t see straight, and take the pages to bed with me. Day is ideal for revision; night for creation.
What are you working on right now?
A fourth book of poems and a second memoir.
What does your writing space look like?
This past year, I received a Black Mountain Institute-Kluge Fellowship that allowed me to conduct research and write in beautiful offices in the Library of Congress' Kluge Center and at BMI on the UNLV campus. In DC, I also wrote on a single bed in a basement apartment (laptop on my lap) and a corner table overlooking A Street on Capitol Hill. The dinette/writing table in my Vegas conference-housing dorm overlooked the Strip. In summer, I had writing residencies on the high plains in Wyoming and in the Santa Cruz Mountains, followed by shared spaces in Provincetown and Wellfleet, MA. I'm now in Incline Village, Nevada, writing on a bed in a hotel room until I get settled. In this year of traveling, I’d left my car behind in Florida. So I’ve done a lot of walking—for transportation and for contemplation—and found that I could even write outdoors on Pennsylvania Avenue in DC with traffic going by. There’s an invisibility to living where I know so few people. That solitariness gives me something of the psychic protection that my writing room at “home” in Florida did, making it safe to go into my writing even in noisy, urban environments.
Share a favorite AWP conference moment.
Because we are all so far flung, there are many writers I only see at AWP. My favorite moment at AWP is the one when I catch sight of a friend I haven’t seen for a year, and my heart leaps up. It happens over and over, and with every few steps another person I’ve missed appears. There is also the great joy of meeting new writers, and the pleasure of talking with them, hearing them read, seeing their new work. When I was 21, I discovered the Pushcart Prize anthologies in my library. I sat on the carpet with several years’ worth surrounding me. All these living writers! I hadn’t known literature could be so wide open and new. In one volume, I discovered Jayne Anne Phillips’s story “How Mickey Made It.” Windows were being thrown open. Windows I didn’t know existed. At my neighborhood bookstore, I’d ordered her story collection, Black Tickets, and have carried it with me ever since. When I write, I keep it nearby to remind me what I felt when I first read that story. To remind me of what I want in my own writing. At a recent AWP conference, I finally met Jayne Anne Phillips. It was impossible to speak, to explain to her what her writing has meant to me all these years. Tongue-tied and overwhelmed as I was, I was very grateful to meet her, and to be another writer in the room.