ELISE JUSKA will be speaking at the noontime writers and readers series on Thursday the 27th.
Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines including Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, The Hudson Review, Harvard Review, The Missouri Review and been cited as distinguished by The Best American Short Stories.
With a career as a teacher and director at the University of the Arts, a novel set for release in May 2014, and a week long class at the Rosemont Writer’s Retreat this June, Elise Juska keeps busy in all areas across the board. Philadelphia Stories set out to find more about her most recent accomplishments, as well as the passion and people that have helped her succeed.
As a teacher and director of the creative writing program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, you see many young aspiring writers. What advice can you give them? What should aspiring writers do more of in order to be successful?
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Don’t over-focus on getting published. Don’t over-plan a story. Do sit down and write, every day if you can, and learn the craft by reading as much and as widely as possible.
Your up-and-coming novel, The Blessings, will be released in May 2014. What can you tell us about this story, and where did your inspiration come from?
The book is a novel-in-stories about a close extended family (the Blessings) from Northeast Philadelphia. After the death of a young uncle, the family struggles with the loss, both individually and together; each chapter is told from a different person’s point of view. Having grown up in a big family, I was interested in the different ways it can define us–the family is so much a part of who we are, our shared identity and history, yet everyone in it has parts of their lives that are kept private, too.
When you write, how close are you to your narrator? Do you find that a lot of yourself intentionally or unintentionally winds up within your main character?
Less so as I get older. When I was first writing and publishing stories, in grad school, my narrators more closely resembled myself. But the more I write, the more interested I am in exploring stories that are (on the surface, at least) different than my own.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? When did you finally feel like a writer?
I started typing attempts at stories when I was about six. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that a writer was what I wanted to be. The older I get, the more I realize how lucky this is, to know what you want to do at an early age–at any age! It’s something I recognize in my students at the University of the Arts, this clarity and passion, and part of why I love teaching there.
You are a mentor to student writers. Did you have a mentor at any time during your education?
I had many wonderful teachers. The most important was Frank Burroughs, my adviser at Bowdoin College, who taught my first fiction writing workshop. After class one afternoon, he sent me down to the little local bookstore to find two things: John Gardner’s On Becoming A Novelist and anything by Alice Munro. They were eye-opening.
Elise Juska will be teaching “The Whole Story: Exploring the Possibilities of Voice in Short Fiction” at the week long Rosemont Writers Retreat on June 24-28. Meet Elise on Thursday, June 27, 2013, at the free noontime Writers and Readers Series, which will feature in-depth conversations about craft led by Rosemont MFA program director, Carla Spataro.
**Thursday Night Student Open Mic will feature work read by students attending the Rosemont Writer’s Retreat!