In the Spotlight
Lisa C. Taylor
Poet and Fiction Writer
Connecticut Member Since: 2002
About: Lisa C. Taylor is the author of four collections of poetry and a forthcoming collection of short fiction. She holds an MFA from Stonecoast/University of Southern Maine. Both her poetry and fiction have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Who encouraged you to be a writer?
I had a sixth grade teacher, Miss Van Dyke, who encouraged me. In high school, my mentor and cheerleader was Mr. Lyons. He entered my poetry in the National Scholastic Writing Awards where I won a first prize in poetry. It was a turning point for me—the kind of validation that has stayed with me through the times of discouragement that all writers face.
If you could meet any writer, who would it be?
I’ve been lucky enough to meet many of my literary heroes—Seamus Heaney, Tobias Wolff, Adam Zagajewski, Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and many others. I’d like a few hours with James Joyce. If it was possible to carry on a conversation, I’d ask him his process; how he tapped into the human psyche in such an intuitive and groundbreaking way while still paying attention to detail and the confines of language. It takes a certain kind of courage to write the way he wrote, and I suspect he simply couldn’t do otherwise. Lucky for the world, he didn’t censor himself, and thus we have stories and novels that are as relevant and important today as they were in the early 1900s.
What do your books look like once you’ve finished reading them?
I honor books and rarely destroy them. Favorite books are treated like good friends, gently and respectfully. Instead of writing in the margins, I keep a small notebook and jot down lines I like, sometimes printing them and putting them around me in my various offices. Words hold power for me but books are like a glass box protecting the treasure so it will be there for years to come.
What is the book you could read again and again? Why?
Ulysses, by James Joyce. I never feel done with this book though I’ve read it numerous times. In a great work of literature, there are always new things to discover. As I move more into fiction writing, I read fiction as a writer, marveling at the way in which good fiction builds upon itself, creating believable, flawed, and vulnerable characters. The writing of James Joyce is humbling to me, and as a writer, I prefer to be humbled when I read. I love to finish a book and think to myself, I never could have written that.
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
I once had a woman come up to me at a reading and tell me a line from one of my poems helped her through chemotherapy and radiation. She said she typed it up and carried it around with her. I think that comes pretty close to a perfect reaction. I believe that all good writing should make a reader feel something. If that something also carried a kind of power that feels protective against a challenging life experience—well, it doesn’t get any better than that for me.
What would be your advice to new AWP members on how to make the most of their membership?
The conference is a great opportunity to meet writers and attend readings and workshops. Read the wonderful articles in The Writer’s Chronicle. Note deadlines for contests and calls for submissions and celebrate the publications and successes of other writers.
Do you feel influenced by your peers to produce a certain type of creative work or do you follow your own creative interests and passions?
I’ve had a relationship with the international literary Arlen House Press in Dublin since 2010. Arlen House distributes in the United States through Syracuse University Press. Alan Hayes, of Arlen House, publishes a wide range of authors in fiction, Irish history, language, and art, and poetry. I have never felt pressured to write from a specific aesthetic but rather to produce work of quality. He encouraged my venture into fiction and will be bringing out my debut collection of short stories later this year. Like my longtime writing group, Still River Writers, the best writing peers for me are the ones who believe in my ability to produce work of value to the larger world.