Caitlin Horrocks: What Happens When You Lose Everything?
The Author of The Vexations on First Draft
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
From the episode
Mitzi Rapkin: One of the things your book is exploring is the artistic process and how someone throughout the course of their life interacts with the society before them. One of the questions it left me with is: what happens when you lose everything?
Caitlin Horrocks: That idea of reinvention was really important to me and thinking about what are the moments in most people’s lives when you have to have a reckoning and go from plan A to plan B or from plan B to plan C or C to D. I work at a university, and one of the things we all pitch in on is when talented high school students come and we have this sort of in-person gauntlet of questions and interviews they do for scholarship allocation. I have this very vivid memory of automatic pilot. I had this list of questions I was supposed to ask—I asked the student what extracurriculars have you been doing and they talked to me about sports—and I said, “Are you going to continue with that at Grand Valley?” and they said “No.” I said, “Oh why?” and they just looked at me with a stricken expression and said, “I’m not good enough.”
I felt really bad because it was a dumb question and just this moment of recognition where it was just this kid who really had already had that moment of “Here’s something I care about, here’s something I enjoy, and I am only this level of talented at it and that is a level of talent that is going to allow me to participate in club sports but not a Division II varsity level and that is a small version.” I think a lot of us have these larger moments, of what is my path going to be, what opportunities are available to me, what do I do with the talent that I have and where do I put it, and how hard do I try and in what direction do I try? … You know, I think we have a sense of romance and cultural cliché around the idea of the starving artist, and when the artist is literally starving that is a much harder, grittier, untenable reality. That is something I was definitely thinking about in the book.
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Caitlin Horrocks is the author of the story collection This Is Not Your City and a recipient of the O. Henry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, and the Plimpton Prize. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Tin House, One Story, and elsewhere and has been included in The Best American Short Stories. She lives with her family in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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