Cheryl Collins Isaac on Writing About Ballet, and the Intersection of Beauty and Pain
This Week from The Common Podcast
Cheryl Collins Isaac speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her story “Spin,” which appears in The Common’s new spring issue. “Spin” is about two Liberian immigrants making a new life in Appalachia. In this conversation, Cheryl talks about the inspiration behind this story: writing from music and toward beautiful, sensual language. She also discusses Liberia’s interesting cultural history, her writing and revision process, and what it’s like to do a writing residency in Edith Wharton’s bedroom.
On the musical inspiration for “Spin”:
This story started from the music. I write with music a lot, with big noise-canceling headphones. It transports me to another world. I heard the sound and immediately the sound and the beat and the movement made me go into the story itself. I just started writing.
On finding the perfect ending:
Once I started writing this story, even though there was a lot of editing in the middle, the ending landed perfectly the first time. The ending it has now is what I started with; the story went in that direction and I just followed. I was being led by my characters and by a moment in time, a story that begged to be told.
On writing about ballet:
The parts of the story about ballet I had to research a lot, but I loved doing that. It helped elevate beauty in the story. I love working at the intersection of beauty and pain, or beauty and suffering. I love showing how they coexist. I also love exploring the intersection of art, and exploring dance was so fascinating to me. I got so caught up in it, I listened to so much music. I let the character fall into those movements and those rhythms. It motivated and moved me.
Cheryl Collins Isaac immigrated to the United States in 1996 from Liberia, West Africa. She is a 2022 Edith Wharton Straw Dog Writer-in-Residence and the recipient of the 2020 James Baldwin Fellowship at MacDowell. She has had fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published in Chicago Quarterly Review, The Ocean State Review, Hawai`i Pacific Review, South Writ Large, Prime Number Magazine, and more. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Tampa. Follow Cheryl on Twitter at @CherylCIsaac.
Emily Everett is managing editor of The Common magazine and host of the magazine’s podcast. Her stories appear in the Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, Tin House Online, and Mississippi Review. Say hello on Twitter @Public_Emily.