NWS Author Next Door Spotlight: Teresa Scollon

Teresa ScollonTeresa Scollon – an avid reader, teacher and poet who happily, has managed to create and maintain a writing life.

Teresa Scollon is the author of To Embroider the Ground with Prayer, a poetry collection published by Wayne State University Press as part of its Made in Michigan series. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She has an MBA from the University of Michigan and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine.

Teresa is a native of Michigan’s ‘Thumb,’ a place whose characters and stories often appear in her work. She left the ‘Thumb,’ however, and worked for many years in Chicago and Wisconsin in the fields of human resources and consulting, with a brief stint in farming. An alumna of Interlochen Arts Academy, she returned to Michigan in 2007 when she left her post as EEO Officer for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to teach as Interlochen’s Writer-in-Residence.

To Embroider The Ground With Prayer by Teresa ScollonIn the Traverse area, Teresa teaches at Northwestern Michigan College and does organization development work for nonprofits and for-profit companies. She also serves as chair of the Board of Directors of Michigan Writers, a nonprofit collective which supports regional writers with craft workshops, fellowship and opportunities to publish: the literary journal Dunes Review, and a yearly chapbook competition. Teresa’s chapbook Friday Nights the Whole Town Goes to the Basketball Game was a winner of that competition.

How did you become a writer?
I first got started as a reader. My mother taught me to read when I was very young. She had an adventurous spirit and a book entitled Teach Your Baby to Read. She’d park my brother and me at the kitchen table and show us big poster-board signs she’d made with words like “mommy” and “daddy.” When we got the hang of it, she gave us a box of index cards with words printed on them, and I used to line them up on the windowsill. I remember it as play, pure pleasure.

My parents loved books and learning, so there was always a lot of varied reading material in the house and I had access to all of it. I would read anything. I should also say that it wasn’t so easy for my parents to get books—there were no bookstores in the village or even county in which I grew up. The nearest town of any size was 45 miles away, and in those days, we didn’t get there more than a couple of times a year.

My parents did not believe in coloring books or much TV, so as kids, we were encouraged to draw and write and make up games. Make our own fun. So writing was a natural thing to mess around with from early on. I kept a journal, and writing was my natural way for me to make sense of things.

But I was first introduced to writing as a practice at Interlochen Arts Academy. I went there for my last two years of high school, as a piano student. And I happened to sign up for an elective creating writing course. At Interlochen I was introduced to poetry, and to poets, and it profoundly affected me.

I thought I’d study writing in college, but I was distracted by other goals. Years later I found my way back to writing, and wrote, on the side, off and on for many years. My study became more and more serious, and eventually I tried to make it the center of my life. That remains a difficult challenge, since it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a poet, and one has to eat.

I returned to Interlochen as the writer-in-residence in 2007, and for one reason or another, have stayed in this community. I published a chapbook, a book, got involved in the writing community here—specifically Michigan Writers, won a national grant, and my writing life seems to keep going. I’m happy about that.

How do you write? What is your process?
I am always trying to instill a daily routine, and I feel good when it’s working. I also am in continual struggle with the demands of teaching and administrivia that take up writing time. The best is when I’m home and I can write a little, get up and mess around in the kitchen while the language works its way into my body, come back to the table and write a little, and the dogs aren’t barking their heads off.

That’s the physical process. The mental and emotional process of writing requires that I set aside any idea of where I think the poem should go. It requires that I begin, and see where my mind and heart and the world lead me. Any preconceived notions I have of myself or of anything else have to go. Always. Continually. Writing is a continual process of opening and abandoning any plans. It’s not a glamorous process by any means, but it can be very satisfying. Writing is an essential process for me to personally keep my balance and grow and learn. I am very happy when these poems can also offer something to readers.

Who are your favorite authors/ What authors have inspired you?
Many authors and books have inspired me, by broadening my sense of what is possible, and by deepening my senses and powers of observation. And I love a wide range of writing.

Let’s see. Here’s who comes to mind:
Wendell Berry was the first poet recommended to me, and I have loved his work ever since. I’ll be teaching a class this winter in Mary Oliver and Tony Hoagland, two poets I admire, so I’m really reading a lot of them these days. I am always learning from poets and I hope I always will be.

Recently I was reminded of Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” I typed it out and stuck it on the fridge, and memorized it, and went around the house reciting it to the dogs. It’s absolutely terrifying. At least to me. As far as the dogs were concerned, it was all very exciting. I could just as well have been talking about rabbits or sausage.

And maybe because I’m a poet, I’m drawn to prose writers whose texture I admire. Like Annie Dillard, or Jamaica Kincaid, or Marilynne Robinson, or Ferdinando Camon. Read Jane Austen aloud and it will knock you over.  I’m a recent fan of Edward Hoagland’s essays and Annie Proulx.

What books are on your bedside table?
I’m usually reading several things at once—things that have caught my eye and things I’m reading to meet a deadline. But the bedside table is a special place, because if I read anything too rambunctious late at night, I can’t sleep. Once the words start whirling there’s no stopping them. So only a few things are beside the bed:  Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which I’m reading as slowly as possible because it is so beautiful. And Thich Nhat Hanh’s You Are Here, and Henry Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love. And usually a volume of somebody’s poetry—right now it’s Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish. And, of course, a notebook and pen.

What writing projects do you have planned next?
I’m working on poems for a next collection, and I’ve been messing around with short essays. I don’t like to talk about it too much, but just keep working away at it.

I’ve also got a blog on reading contemporary poetry at my website: www.teresascollon.com. I think so many people don’t know where to begin to find or read and enjoy contemporary poetry, and there is so much great stuff out there! So I’m writing about it.

What advice do you have for young writers?
Just write. Write every day if you can. And read. Read. Read. Read like a writer. Read to find out how the author did it. And build your community. Go to readings. Read local authors. Jack Driscoll told me a long time ago that there is a long tradition of writers welcoming new writers. That is what I’ve experienced, and that is also what I try to extend to others myself. Making stories or poems is really about adding your voice to a community of voices, so it’s good to be acquainted with the community in multiple ways.
Your colleagues and writer friends, teachers, editors, librarians, booksellers, readers—all of it is necessary and beautiful.

Her latest book information:
Scollon’s poetry collection is entitled To Embroider the Ground With Prayer. It was published by Wayne State University Press in 2012. It’s a softcover book, available at the bookstores in town, or online for $15.95.  And, says Scollon, it has a gorgeous cover.