Faculty Spotlight: Sarah Gerkensmeyer

The IWC is happy to feature Sarah Gerkensmeyer in conversation about her writing life and her upcoming class with us, “An Eye for the Weird” Sunday March 3

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Sarah Gerkensmeyer’s story collection, What You Are Now Enjoying, was selected by Stewart O’Nan as winner of the Autumn House Press Fiction Prize, longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and chosen as winner of Late Night Library’s Debut-litzer Prize. A finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and the Italo Calvino Prize for Fabulist Fiction, Sarah’s stories and poetry have appeared in American Short Fiction, Guernica, The New Guard, The Massachusetts Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, B O D Y, and Hobart, among others. Her story “Ramona” was featured in a Huffington Post piece on flash fiction and also selected by Lily Hoang for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology. Sarah was a Pen Parentis Fellow and is the 2016 winner of the Indiana Authors Award in the emerging category.

What writing accomplishment are you most proud of?

While receiving news that my collection of stories had been accepted for publication was one of my top writing thrills, winning the Indiana Author’s Award (in the Emerging category) was a close second. The programming leading up to the awards reception was phenomenal.  And as a hoosier, this particular honor was especially meaningful. I sometimes call the midwest the mid-weird, and I think that growing up in Indiana gave me a pretty magical view on some of the things I write about.

What is your personal motto, or something like a proverb that you live by (writing related or not)?

I have a tattoo on one of my wrists from a note my father wrote me when I was very young. In his handwriting it reads: Don’t hesitate. Wonderful advice in general for a worrier who can expertly worry about literally anything. But also wonderful writing advice. A lesson I bring up in the classroom over and over again and need to practice more myself: just let those early drafts come out messy and wild. Do not hesitate at the beginning of a writing project. The mess is where the best discoveries are made.

What’s the best thing students can take away from this class?

Connected to my “don’t hesitate” advice above, my hope is that students who take my workshop will have the opportunity to create some wonderfully messy rough draft material that they can return to and further explore. I like to create a mix of both conversation and creative writing opportunities during my workshops, and I hope students will walk away with at least one exciting idea they might pursue.

What’s your favorite thing about the IWC?

Many writers are solitary creatures. And while the ability to shut yourself away and dwell inside your own mind for long stretches to create art is an important one, I think it can be easy for us to forget how important a sense of community can be. I love how effortlessly IWC creates opportunities for community-building. I always feel welcome.

Who are some of your favorite books on writing craft? 

Flannery O’Connor’s book of essays Mystery and Manners has some great advice for charging into the unknown and trying to leave room in our writing for surprise and even shock when it comes to both our characters and the plot. Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction is also one of my absolute favorites. The essays are great and the artwork is gorgeous and inspiring.

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