ROAR’s Interview with Award-Winning Author Jill McCorkle

Jill McCorkle is a professor in the MFA in Creative Writing program at NC State. She has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Tufts University and Brandeis, where she was the Fannie Hurst Visiting Writer. She was a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Creative Writing at Harvard for five years where she also served as chair of the creative writing program. She was one of the original core faculty members of the Bennington College MFA program and is a frequent instructor at the Sewanee Summer Writers Program.

A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, McCorkle has the distinction of having published her first two novels on the same day in 1984. Since then, she has published three other novels and four collections of short stories. Five of her eight books have been named New York Times notable books. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, Oxford American, Southern Review and Bomb Magazine, among others. Four of her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories and several have been collected in New Stories from the South. Her story, “Intervention,” is in the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.

ROAR: As you know, ROAR is a journal focused on supporting creativity in women, specifically new and emerging artists. As an established female writer, can you talk about how you balance your writing life with all of your other responsibilities: mother, wife, professor, writing colleague?

McCorkle: The balancing act has been a constant and ever changing thing. Juggling this and that. The rule I have always had in my mind though is that kids trump all. If things aren’t right at that end, I have trouble writing so it’s best for me to get busy and straighten my nest first and then work. Obviously, sometimes are easier than others but I have not regretted the system of priorities. I spend a lot of time getting ready to write: taking notes, thinking, all things I could do while also driving carpools and sitting at Little League games or ballet classes. I find the time I spend “getting ready” is maybe what is most valuable to my process. A lot happens and grows before I ever actually sit down and put pen to paper. Now, my kids are in their 20s so I find myself with whole days to write. Because I never really had this before, I find that I am able to get a lot done and do not take such time for granted. But, I am still somewhat chore driven and so it helps that I keep myself on a schedule of schoolwork here/ housework there, etc.

ROAR: Do you believe each writer needs a “room of one’s own”?

McCorkle: Every writer needs a room of one’s own, even if it is the “room” of your own mind where you can’t be interrupted. I have always been very portable as a writer but also have the need for what is consistent and solitary. I have had work space the size of a closet and I have had a whole room which I have now and love. But, I also have felt this sense of space with the journal of the month when on vacation or sitting on a plane. For me the key word is solitude and out of that comes the sense of space. Of course, the physical space is most appreciated when you want to create piles of scraps of paper and then leave them that way undisturbed.

ROAR: In the story “Crash Diet,” Sandra’s husband leaves her for a woman who is thinner and younger, yet the story ends with Sandra single for the first time in five years and happier than ever.  Many of your stories are told from the female point of view. Do you think the theme of this story, and others from your collections over the years, represent a feminist perspective?

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