The Writing University conducts a series of interviews - the "5Q Interviews" - with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
This year, we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the University of Iowa Press with a special editon of 5Q Interviews of UI Press authors throughout the years. Happy Birthday UI Press!
Today we are speaking with JoeAnn Hart.
JoeAnn Hart is the author of Stamford ’76: A True Story of Murder, Corruption, Race, and Feminism in the 1970s (University of Iowa Press, April, 2019), a crime memoir that weaves together the personal and public threads of a friend’s 1976 bow-and-arrow death. Her novels are Float (Ashland Creek Press, 2013) a dark comedy about plastics in the ocean, and Addled (Little, Brown, 2007) a social satire that intertwines animal rights with the politics of food. Her work, which also includes short fiction, articles, essays, and drama, often explores the relationship between humans and their environments, natural or otherwise.
1. Hi JoeAnn! Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?
The project I’m working on this year is the same one I worked on last year, and if history is any guide, it will be next year’s project as well. The new novel is called Arroyo Circle, and even though it’s been slow going, I still feel all the enthusiasm and clarity I had when I put the first thoughts and images down on paper. The story is set in Boulder, Colorado, where I used to live, so it’s pulling on certain nostalgic strings for what’s been lost while embracing my current concerns, including hoarding and the meaning of home within the context of the environment. The characters are like everyone I know right now, tense about the present and unsure about the future, if any. Yet we’re still putting one foot in front of another making believe it’s all going to be okay. Somehow.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
My best writing is done in the morning before I even get out of my pajamas, so I’m still in a dreamy space. If the writing is going particularly well, I won’t get changed until noon. But I’ll often return to the manuscript right before bed to read a few pages and let my mind work on it at night. I’ll reread those pages in the morning and listen. Then I’ll do some revision and also try to get a few fresh pages down. Work is not always consecutive at this stage, so I’m still jumping around on the timeline as images or plot come to me. Mine is a really messy first draft, but just as we must dance as if no one is watching, we must write as if no one is reading. Sometimes you just have write your way to what you’re trying to say, then erase those incriminating footprints in a later draft.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
All reading is research in one way or another, because reading allows us to enter other people’s experience. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read,” as James Baldwin wrote. For pleasure, or indirect research, I always keep a few books going at once, with different books for different rooms or mood. For non-fiction, in order of “almost finished” to “just cracked,” I’m reading Our Man by George Packer, a Richard Holbrooke biography, Tristimania, A Diary of Manic Depression by Jay Griffiths (I just can’t get enough of the human brain), and Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North, Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age because I’m at that age, and I actually do row. Fiction right now is Sing To It, Amy Hempel’s new collection of short stories, and Absurdistan, a novel by Gary Shteyngart. There is also a stack of books in my office that I’m reading to get the facts right in the novel, scientific or otherwise. They are Bad Environmentalism, Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age by Nicole Seymour, Out of Eden, An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion by Alan Burdick, Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham, Fire by Sebastion Junger, and Megafire by Michael Kodas. If you haven’t guessed by now, there’s a wildfire in Arroyo Circle.
4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
My home for the past forty years is in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a rambling blue farmhouse that has been in my husband’s family for three generations, although we are the first to live here year round. There were a few ramshackle barn buildings, so it wasn’t long before we started filling them with assorted livestock. Right now, there’s Zach, the donkey from Save Your Ass rescue, Iggy and Hamlet, the pot-bellied pigs, and Bo, the enormous goat. There are too many chickens to name because people keep asking us to take their roosters when they get busted by the city for crowing. In the house, we have two dogs, Daisy and Happy, and they keep me company while I write. The three of us spend a lot of time gazing out of the window. When my kids grew up, I moved my office from a dark, hidden space to one of their old bedrooms with a harbor view. I might get fewer words on the page down, but I think about the world more. Daisy and Happy, do you agree?
5. The UI Press is turning 50 this year! Share with us a bit about your experience and relationship with the press.
Fifty is big! Congratulations to a wonderful press. The University of Iowa Press published my true crime memoir Stamford ’76, A True Story of Murder, Corruption, Race, and Feminism in the 1970s in April 2019. Jim McCoy had acquired it the year before, and for many months I worked with the UIP team through the long slog from manuscript to book. Nothing beats having editors who see your writing in its best version of itself. Everyone on the team, on staff and out-sourced, was intelligent and meticulous in their work and respectful of my work -- i.e., editorial suggestions that made me want to get back to writing instead of cry. It was difficult material, so this was no mean feat. To Jim, Susan Hill Newton, Gemma deChoisey, Allison Means, Karen Copp, Meredith Stabel, Anna Polonyi, and Carolyn Brown, thank you all.
Thank you JoeAnn!
Established in 1969, the University of Iowa Press serves scholars, students, and readers throughout the world with works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. As the only university press in the state, Iowa is also dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the Midwest. The UI Press is a place where first-class writing matters, whether the subject is Whitman or Shakespeare, prairie or poetry, memoirs or fandom. They are committed to the vital role played by small presses as publishers of scholarly and creative works that may not attract commercial attention. For more information, please e-mail email@example.com.