Silvia Spring on Living Abroad and Writing in Community
This Week from The Common Podcast
Silvia Spring speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her debut short story “The Home Front,” which appears in The Common’s fall issue. In this conversation, Spring talks about the inspiration and process behind the story, which tangles with the difficulties of coming into adulthood, and the experience of living abroad without feeling part of the community. Spring drew from her own experience studying and living in London and her time as a journalist at Newsweek, embedded with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conversation also includes discussion of the revision process; writing without an MFA; and US foreign policy, today and over the last few years.
On embedding as a journalist with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan:
The idea as a reporter is that you wouldn’t want them to do anything special for you that would be out of their normal routine, putting themselves in undue danger because you’re there. Because if something happens you would not want to be responsible for that situation. But they can’t help but want to show off for you and take you around and make sure you see things. It can be a little bit of a dance. You’re supposed to be living with them and observing, reporting on the mission and their day-to-day operations.
On writing as observing:
As someone who writes stories, I myself often feel like an observer. I think that’s why I love traveling—because I can just be very comfortable in my observer status, whether it’s a short trip and you’re touring somewhere, or when I was with the State Department and lived in China and definitely felt like an outsider and an observer for a lot of the life in Beijing that I saw there. Naturally that’s my view of the world a lot of the time, so when I write in the first person I think that’s my default.
On living abroad:
Sometimes going overseas or going to a new place can be kind of a shortcut to adulthood. If you go for a job or you’re studying or certainly if you’re deployed somewhere, it’s like a shortcut to growing up and figuring out who you are from scratch, and deciding who you’re going to be. It’s a good setting and occasion for a story.
On writing in community:
What you really need is a group of people who are expecting your work; you just need their attention on it. Knowing that people are going to read what I submit seriously and give me thoughtful feedback and think about these made-up people I’ve created is so motivating for me. And reading other people’s stories, too, and figure out what’s not working and what is working. You can’t only read George Saunders stories. It’s good to see the back of the machine. Learning from other people’s mistakes and wins is so helpful.
Silvia Spring is the Foreign Policy Lead on TikTok’s U.S. Public Policy Team. Prior to joining TikTok, she spent three years as Airbnb’s Foreign Policy Manager. Silvia was a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State from 2010-2017, serving in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States. She started her career at Newsweek as a Special Correspondent based in London and reported from Kenya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
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.