Thursday, May 5, 2011

Interview with Writing Whiz Kelsey Ronan

Pens Without Ink's (sometimes)fiercely leader sat down with Kelsey Ronan to discuss one of the finer thing in life: writing.

Pens Without Ink:  Hi.
Kelsey Ronan: Hello.

PWI: How are you?
Ronan: Good, thanks.

PWI: As a writer where do you derive your inspiration for your work from?
Ronan: Most of my fiction is either poorly-disguised autobiography or cruelly stolen from the lives of my friends
PWI:There's an old saying amongst writers and English teachers that you should stick to "writing what you know? Knowing that you like to travel and are also a die-hard Flintstone (person from Flint, Michigan) does either take precedence in your writing?
Ronan: Despite having traveled fairly extensively through Europe and North Africa (backpacking and various volunteer positions), virtually all of my writing is rooted in Flint, Michigan. There’s a peculiar desolation and sadness to Flint that’s a constant challenge to capture. So I’ve seen the spires of Krakow and gotten lost in the souks in Morocco and all that, but I’m still driven to write about Chevy in the Hole and the smell of coney island grease and MTA bus exhaust. Maybe that’s what’s meant by “write what you know.”

PWI:What kind of work have you done as a writer?
Ronan: I’ve also worked extensively in Flint as a journalist and as a writing teacher, and doubtless that’s influenced me. 2 ½ years ago I started a creative writing workshop at a homeless shelter for women and children, and it’s been one of the most ridiculously fun experiences of my life. We’ve put on poetry slams, compiled chapbooks, put on a student-written play, and we’re currently in the process of creating zines for a zine fest to be held in Flint this July.

PWI: Have you ever kept a journal?
Ronan: I know this is unorthodox, but I’ve never kept a journal. I’m a prodigious letter writer, however (charmingly arcane, right?) so I think I get my practice from that. It’s a good way to keep in the habit of explaining emotion and describing observations, visual and visceral. I know some writers are fussy about time and space, too, but I’ve never really been the type. I can write in the reading room of the public library or at the kitchen table just as easily as my desk.

PWI: We heard that you got excepted into a pretty respectable MFA program for writing in the Fall, would you mind talking a little about that?
Ronan:In the fall I’ll be starting the MFA in fiction writing program at Purdue. I chose Purdue in large part because of Looseleaf, their community outreach program. I am (with heavy heart) handing the Shelter of Flint workshop over to a very capable student at UM-Flint, and I’ll be finding a new environment in the schools and public libraries around Purdue. I’ll be working with Porter Shreve and Bich Minh Nguyen, both Michigan novelists, so I think they’ll understand my grandiose visions to turn Flint into high art.

PWI: If you were forced to pick a favorite novel what would it be?
Ronan: If forced to pick a favorite novel, I think I’d choose Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. The themes of identity, family and grief are all things I explore in my own work, and her writing is exquisite-- I’ve read it dozens of times and each time I’m somehow surprised or impressed by it. But I think my tastes are sort of eclectic. Joyce, Woolf, Haruki Murakami, Salinger, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Jeffrey Eugenides, Yann Martel and Tahir Shah are all favorites for innumerable reasons.



  1. Writing what you know is the best way I've found to be able to find the depth of my characters. I tried going outside the box in the beginning, using completely made up stories about something I'd never experienced. It doesn't have the depth of character and emotion of the characters I'm working with now. Everything is not a personal experience, but it has happened in one degree or another to someone I know or have heard off. The rest is fictional. I attended a writers conference that stressed writing what you were familiar with as the best source of writing. It has by far been the best writing advice I've ever had.

  2. I agree! Of course there is a new element to my writing but the emotions, the situations, the experiences that seems to have to come from something I actually know. If you want your writing to have dept some of yourself has to be in it.