Meet the Writer: Anna Sutton

I want to thank Anna for answering my questions. You can learn more about her HEREAnna is participating in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project during the month of August. To learn more or make a donation, visit Tupelo Press!”

What was the first poem about that you remember writing?

When I was in preschool, my brother and sister were home-schooled. It was just for one year, but because of it, I learned to read and write pretty early on. The first creative things I wrote were primarily song lyrics, mostly about killer whales–pretty heady stuff. I also remember a “My Autobiography” assignment at school that I just completely fabricated. I said I’d been born in a Springtime field in Spain and traveled by boat to America for school. Amazingly, I was caught in the lie.

But the earliest poem that sticks out is one that I think my father might still have tucked away somewhere, about our family cat, the Fugitive (named for the Harrison Ford movie, shortened to Fug.) It was an attempt at haiku and it was actually kind of sad: “You lie down beside me / I think you can hear me / So I tell you everything.” I was in Catholic school at the time, so everything was sad. Soon after that, me and my poems became preoccupied with boys. I still think that haiku is better than anything I wrote from age 7-17.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A mother, mostly. I was that kid who wanted to hold everyone’s babies. I babysat my first child, home alone, when I was ten. The kid was eight and it did not go smoothly, but it didn’t deter me. Neither did working at an understaffed preschool, nannying…not even teaching high school could scare me off motherhood, although it did scare me off teaching.

And I did want to be a writer; I wanted to be an artist–a painter, a photographer, a decoupager of all things; a singer-songwriter, sort of. For a few years, I didn’t listen to much contemporary music. There used to be a great oldies station in Nashville and they’d even have annual concerts where acts like the Spinners and the Four Tops would come and perform. Anyhow, likely because of that, when I was little, I wanted to be a Motown back-up singer. I still kind of do.

Do you think writing is taught, that we know how to do it instinctively, or both? Why?

Both, definitely. I think you can learn to write well technically, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve learned what to write about, what is meaningful, and what is below even that immediate meaning.

And the craft can be instinctive, too. I’ve known writers and taught many young writers who have an insanely sophisticated way with language that is clearly intrinsic, but need to be taught how to direct their focus. I hesitate to use an example (not all young white male fiction writers…) but the best I can think of is a young writer I worked with who could build a scene like a pro. His tone, imagery, and pacing was spot-on, but he kept writing these violent, misogynistic noir shorts where the antihero would screw the femme fatale and then slit her throat in the span of a few pages, always in pursuit of some shadowy organization that was out to get him for flimsy reasons. It was difficult to explain to him that he had to write every character as a person and not just a prop. Or, I can think of a few poets from workshops whose images are so enviable, so original, so gorgeous, and so tightly phrased, but there isn’t a connection. It’s a floating image, like a really beautiful painting of a horse. Great for Jack Donaghy’s office, but ultimately forgettable.

I think if you’re lucky, both craft and understanding are born into you. If you’re not, then I would imagine it would be easier to understand meaning and learn technique. But who knows? For me, empathy is key, so I guess the debate boils down to whether we can cultivate empathy, particularly past a certain age.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

Fucking Chemistry. Can I swear on your blog? If not, feel free to bleep it out. Anyhow, it was my sophomore year at a public magnet school in Nashville where all the classes were honors level and most of my friends were already loading up on APs. I’d taken Biology the year before and made it through by stepping out every time we talked about dissection; I’d take Conceptual Physics the following year and love it; but I could not, and still can’t, grasp Chemistry.

And maybe I couldn’t grasp it because I didn’t see its meaning. I’m sure there are a million chemists out there who see poetry every day in the periodic table and reactions and bonding or whatever the hell, but to me, it was cold and hard and empty all at once. And the reason that I’m still so furious about it is that I tried as hard as I could and I still made a C, my only C ever at that point, which made me ineligible for Humanities Governor’s School, a summer program that I had been looking forward to for years since my siblings attended. I missed out on a month of reading and writing with other nerds. I’ll never forgive you, first period Chem.

Are you reading anything right now?

I work for a publisher, so right now I’m proofing a manuscript of ghost stories. In my free time, I try to stay up-to-date on as many lit journals as possible. The internet has made that a lot easier. I’m lucky enough to do some work for two different journals, one that does the most gorgeous print editions and one that is equally gorgeous but totally online. It’s amazing how much we can do now with digital platforms. I also have a long list of books that I want to read, though I’m not sure what I’ll get to next. I really want to read the Southern Reach Trilogy, but… maybe not until 2015. We’re only at the midpoint of #readwomen2014, so I want to stick with my ladies this year.

Are you writing anything right now?

On a tiny level, yes, I’m working on a short story about Wilmington, NC, the weird and terrible town where I attended my wonderful and not at all terrible MFA program. On a larger scale, I’m always polishing my first full-length poetry manuscript in between contest submissions and am working on a second project that will either be a chapbook or another full-length book.

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