“Nonfiction is definitely my home.”
Quiz & Quill co-editors and Creative Writing majors Josh Brandon and Jessica Campbell interviewed junior Creative Writing major Claire Winslow in January 2015 with the release of Claire’s Quiz & Quill chapbook, To Look Like Something That Can Sting. Look out for Claire’s chapbook–copies will be released this week.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: Most of my childhood was spent writing a lot of bad short stories, filling the first pages of journals with angsty confessions and worrying far too much about sounding inspiring. It really wasn’t until college that I began to allow myself to make mistakes and, thus, to write anything worth reading.
Q: How did you come about writing creative nonfiction? What do you think, if anything, creative nonfiction offers writers that other genres don’t?
A: I have never been a very good storyteller. I remember being about preschool-age and my mother attempting to teach me that a story needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, a concept that I never truly grasped. When I began to work with creative nonfiction in college, I quickly learned that this was what I was looking for. It doesn’t concern itself with the story, but rather the experience, the metaphor, the message of a moment.
Q: Have you experimented with other genres?
A: I’ve attempted poetry and dabbled in playwriting, but nonfiction is definitely my home.
Q: Do you take any creative liberties in your essays or do you try to remain as honest as you can to your own experiences?
A: I’m not sure if I really believe in “reality” when it comes to essay. I choose to focus on the truth of feelings and of my own personal experiences rather than external events. They are always honest, but if you want a historical account on my life, my essays probably aren’t the best place to look.
Q: Do you see nature as an intrinsic part of human connection? How did writing about your relationship to bees produce this exploration in “On Bees?”
A: Bees are an irresistible metaphor for me, both in the way that humans see them and in how they relate to the rest of the hive. So many people view them with fear, rarely appreciating the beauty of this tiny being who lives so thoroughly as a member of a community. A bee will sacrifice its life for the sake of the hive, showing a level of selflessness that is rare in this world. For me, bees represent the empathy that people, myself included, all too often lack.
Q: Your second essay, “Newsprint,” is one of brevity and contains a fascinating take on generational connection. Why was it necessary to take on two different voices to hash out this exploration? Was it difficult to write this way?
A: In this piece there are almost three different viewpoints. There is me, reading a 1919 issue of the New York Times, contrasted with the experience of the person reading that newspaper the morning it was released. Then there is the voice of some future individual, experiencing the same epiphany that I did on that evening in March of 2013. I think this future persona may be the most important, as it hopefully prompts readers to see their own lives as history, and thus view the past with the same complexity that the present contains.
Q: The two columns in your final essay offer the reader a few choices on how to read it, and the reading experience varies depending on this factor. Where did you get the inspiration to write the essay in this two-column style? How do you think the exploration would have manifested itself if these columns weren’t at play?
A: I’m kind of in love with the ambiguity that the two-column format lends to this third piece. It forces the reader to decide for themselves how to read the essay. Everyone will experience it differently, which does change how the message is perceived. For me this essay is an exploration of perspective, and I think the formatting reflects that.
Q: The epigraph that appears at the beginning of the chapbook is a quote from Vincent Van Gogh, who is also the artist responsible for the painting that appears on the cover. What is the context of the epigraph in relation to this collection of essays, and how do you see Van Gogh relating to your own life and experiences?
A: For over a hundred years it was believed that Vincent Van Gogh had intended to commit suicide when he died 30 hours after receiving a bullet to the chest. However, recent evidence has revealed the likelihood that he was shot accidentally by two young boys playing in the woods. Vincent lied to protect them, taking the blame for his own death. Van Gogh was deeply misunderstood throughout his lifetime, and his death was no reprieve. These misconceptions are a central theme of this collection, and I cannot help but be both captivated and haunted by the artist’s determination to protect those who had hurt him most. The painting on the cover, Van Gogh’s “Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” was part of a study that involved scientists placing a group of bees into a room with different paintings of flowers, and the bees liked this one best. I’m not sure of the scientific value of this experiment, but I appreciate it. And as in everything, I stand with the bees.
Q: How do you see these three personal essays connecting to one another and to yourself?
A: It’s all about perception. For me, all three pieces reflect the ways that we misunderstand each other. It is a collection of misinterpreted complexities, simplified truths, and skewed perspectives.
Q: Is there a certain order in which you want the essays to be read, or do you see them working so that the reader could start at any and pick which one to read next?
A: I think they can be read in any order. They follow similar themes, but in the end, all three pieces are meant to function independently.
Q: What or who has had the greatest impact on your writing style?
A: I have to call out Shannon Lakanen, who allowed me the confidence to make mistakes and gave me a name for the personal essays that I had been writing for years. I think my style is also influenced a lot by the writers that I adore: Paulo Coelho, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, John Keats, and Khaled Hosseini, all fueling my obsession with metaphor and lush descriptions.
Q: How has your writing style developed or changed while you’ve been at Otterbein?
A: I don’t know how much my style has changed, but it is certainly developed enormously. When I first arrived at Otterbein, I would plan every moment of an essay before I wrote it. I have since learned to allow myself to just write. Editing can come later.
Q: How do you plan on incorporating writing into your life after graduation?
A: All I want is to spend my life in a beautiful old farm house, writing essays and keeping bees.