In the Spotlight
Kwoya Fagin Maples
Creative Writing Faculty, Alabama School of Fine Arts
Birmingham, Alabama Member Since: 2015
About: Kwoya Fagin Maples grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and is a lover of sharks, particularly the Great White and Marcus. Her new poetry collection Mend (University Press of Kentucky), a finalist for the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and written with a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, tells the story of the birth of gynecology and the role black enslaved women played in that process. She also runs the 3D Poetry program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts where she teaches creative writing.
Photo credit: Natylie Ravenell
When do you find time to write?
As a writer, academic, and mother of three, I have to take advantage of any time I have. I find time to write by not being picky about the circumstances under which I write. I’ve written on the floor of my basement, in the bathtub, in the grocery store parking lot, and while walking. I also write when my students write. When I give exercises to my students, I respond to them as well. When I feel like I don’t have time to write, I evaluate how I am spending my time.
What is the best writing advice that you dispense to your students?
Something I call “de-mystifying the writing process.” Open a Word document and title it “Manuscript.” Compile the work you already have and type or cut and paste it into the document. (You’ve just begun writing your book.)
What are you reading right now?
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. I’m teaching it this semester.
Who encouraged you to be a writer?
The people who saw me and loved me the most.
If you could meet any writer, who would it be? What would you say to her or him?
If I could meet any writer, it would be Maya Angelou. I’d say thank you.
What do your books look like once you’ve finished reading them?
My books have notes in the margins, and dog-eared pages, but they still look brand new on the outside. Sometimes I write response poems on the pages of poetry collections.
If you could require all of your students to read only one book, which would it be?
Gather Together in My Name, part of an autobiographical series by Maya Angelou. In it, Angelou is an insecure teenage mother who becomes a pimp, a dancer, and then a prostitute. This is obviously just a part of Angelou’s life and not what she is most remembered for. As you may know, she became a respected writer, activist, and academic. I like to teach the book because what we most need in life is empathy and a capacity for understanding. We also need to know that where we are is not always indicative of where we will be.
Do you feel influenced by your peers to produce a certain type of creative work, or do you feel free to follow your own interests and passions?
I am influenced by my peers, of course, but only positively. Seeing the possibilities of what creative writing can be is infinitely inspiring.
Where do you get your best reading recommendations?
Social media. When my friends post photos of books they’re reading, I get curious. I look the books up online, and often I get so excited I call local bookstores to see if it’s in stock so I can buy it that same day.
Describe your writing process. Do you write every day?
No, I don’t write every day. I carry a notebook wherever I go. I jot down ideas, notes, and sometimes a poem. I plan a day in the week to type up everything I’ve written down, and then I start the process of revision. I’d say I write something almost every week, but it may not be much at all. With that said, I do set writing goals. At the beginning of the year I may set a goal to write 60 poems by the end of August. That’s two poems per week. In order to meet that goal, I plan to read at least one collection of poetry a week and write at least one poem that responds to that collection. Since the draft of my current manuscript has been written after meeting my 60-poem goal, I’ll spend the rest of the year revising.
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
The best compliment I can ever receive about my work is that it compelled someone else to write in response.
What is your favorite thing to do when you should be writing, but just can’t find the motivation?
My default is to watch TV or videos on FunnyOrDie.com, but when I’m at my best, I read another poetry collection or a novel.
Would you like to share a project you are currently working on?
I’m currently revising my second collection of poetry. My first full collection, Mend, was released by University Press of Kentucky in November 2018. Mend tells the story of the birth of gynecology and the role black enslaved women played in that process. It is a collection of historical persona poetry based on a case of medical experimentation in Mount Meigs, Alabama. My second collection is very different and hails back to my work before Mend. It’s autobiographical and ocean-obsessed.
What is your favorite line from a book?
“Does not my heat astound you. And my light. / All by myself I am a huge camellia / Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.” From Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, “Fever 103°.”
Do you own an e-reader? How has that changed your relationship to books?
I have apps on my phone where I sometimes download books when I’m too impatient to wait for a hard copy. The best app I’ve downloaded this past summer is Audible. It is a dream for an instructor. I can prep for the novel I’m teaching by listening to it while I’m driving to class. Game changer.
What would be your advice to new AWP members on how to make the most of their membership?
Attend the conferences when you can—and take breaks in your hotel room so you don’t get overwhelmed. Read your subscription to The Writer’s Chronicle. The magazine always has great articles and lists of award opportunities. Get connected with a writing mentor, if you are so inclined.
What is your favorite AWP conference memory?
My most recent favorite AWP memory happened this year in Tampa. As I walked down the sidewalk in front of the convention center where the conference was held, I saw my poetry mentor, Abraham Smith. I hadn’t seen him in about four years. It was so wonderful to run into him, see his bright eyes and face. When I think back to the conference, I keep seeing him, walking towards me on the sidewalk. The coolest thing about the AWP conference is that it creates a space for writers to get together, to (re)connect and learn from each other.