Author Q&A: Kristen Iversen (Full Body Burden)

Kristen Iversen author photoKristen Iversen grew up in Arvada, Colorado near the Rocky Flats nuclear weaponry facility and received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver. She is Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The University of Memphis and also Editor-in-Chief of The Pinch, an award-winning literary journal. During the summers she serves on the faculty of the MFA Low-Residency Program at The University of New Orleans, held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Edinburgh, Scotland.

She is the author of Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats and Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, winner of the Colorado Book Award for Biography and the Barbara Sudler Award for Nonfiction. Several documentaries have been based on this book. Iversen is also the author of a textbook, Shadow Boxing: Art and Craft Creative Nonfiction.

Kristen Iversen has two sons and currently lives in Memphis.

In what way do you think literature has the ability to change the way people live their lives?

I believe literature has a profound and absolutely essential ability to open people’s minds, to allow them to see and experience different lives and indeed to change the way they think about their own life and the lives of others. Creative or literary nonfiction is particularly important in this way. Literary nonfiction has different consequences in the world, and in people’s lives, than fiction or poetry, although all forms of literature are important and aim toward the same essential truths.

What is the best advice you've ever received about writing?

Keep your butt in the chair. I’ve received plenty of advice over the years, but I think this has been the most helpful. And stay away from adjectives.

What is the best sentence you've ever read?

It’s three sentences, actually, from Desert Solitaire. “This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.”

Describe your writing routine.

For me it’s more of a habit or obsession than a writing routine. I’m pretty much writing all the time. There are the hours I spend in front of my computer, of course, and that varies from day to day. I do a lot of writing late at night. But the writing is always with me. I carry little composition notebooks in the back pockets of my Levi's, keep a spiral pad in my car, and I stuff my purse with post-its and napkins with scribbles on them. I go to sleep at night with a notebook next to my bed so I can catch ideas or phrases, sometimes whole paragraphs, when I wake up. I’m always writing—on my computer, on slips of paper, or in my head. I can’t escape it, really.

Best bookstore you've ever been to?

Only one? There are several that are dear to my heart. Burke’s Books in Memphis is the heart and soul of the literary community in Memphis. I adore the Tattered Cover in Denver. They were so kind to me when I was in graduate school and poor as a church mouse; they let me charge my books on a store account and slowly pay them off. Powell’s is great. There’s a nice little bookstore in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico that I like to spend time in. I love to walk into a small, independent bookstore and talk to someone—the owner, the cashier, the person standing next to me in line—about books. Someone who actually reads books and loves them and wants to talk about them.

If you were standing in line at a bookstore and noticed the person in front of you was holding your latest book, what would you say to them?

That’s happened to me more than once. I feel like kissing them, but usually I say nothing.

What literary landmark would you most like to visit?

I’ve visited Emerson’s home several times, and that’s been very important to me. I’d love to visit the country retreat of Virginia Woolf, where she wrote some of her most important works.

Is Facebook good for you?

Yes, it allows me to stay in touch with my writer friends all over the country and connect with my readers. Sometimes it gets a little crazy, but it’s been very good for me personally and professionally.

Do you own an e-reader?

I do, because I travel so much and it makes it easy to carry all my favorite books with me as well as all the new ones I’m reading. But it’s very different from reading an actual book, which is what I prefer. Often I’ll read a book on my Kindle or listen to it on audio, because I just can’t wait, and then when I get home, I buy the hardcover and put it on my shelf.

What non-literary profession would you find most compelling to pursue?

I once worked as a stable hand on a racetrack, taking care of the horses. I loved it: the action, the tension, the smell of the barns and hay and manure and the beautiful horses, each one with a distinct personality. I loved it. I’d go back to it. But I’d still carry a notebook in the back pocket of my Levi’s.

What is one of your vices?

I drink too much coffee. And I like expensive tequila. That’s two. Are those vices or virtues?

Favorite books you've read in the past year?

It’s the same every year: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I love that book. I read constantly, usually several books at once, and I like to read my favorites over and over. But I really love Housekeeping.

Favorite word?

What Molly said at the end of Ulysses: "Yes I said yes I will Yes." Yes is my favorite word.

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