Monday, September 30, 2019

The Writing University conducts the 5Q Interview series 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. Happy Birthday UI Press!


Paula Becker

Today we are speaking with Paula Becker. Becker is the author of Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I, and co-author of The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair and Its Legacy and Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington's First World's Fair. Her next book, forthcoming September 2019, from University of Iowa Press, is A House on Stilts: Mothering in the Age of Opioid Addiction, a memoir. She will be reading from A House on Stilts at the Iowa City Public Library on October 5th at 1:00pm for the Iowa City Book Festival.

Paula Becker has written for since 2001, and is a staff historian. Her 300+ essays on the site document all aspects of Washington state history.

1. Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?

I am devoting most of my energies in the near future to promoting my new book, A House On Stilts: Mothering in the Age of Opioid Addiction. Because the topic is so personal, and because I anticipate that many of the readers I will meet will be experiencing the ongoing trauma of coping with a family member's addiction issues, I am attempting to develop strategies for remaining centered during book promotion. I strive to validate, but not personally absorb, the pain with which many potential readers may be struggling. I am also contemplating writing a small manual, bare-boned but hopefully emotionally potent, that might help guide those who grieve through the early stages of bereavement using small practical suggestions.


2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I write when I have something to write about – an ongoing project, or an assignment due for, the Washington state history website I write for. I do not have a daily writing practice, but recently I have developed a daily practice of drawing and using watercolor paints. This started somewhat therapeutically as I attempted to cope with newly emerging details about my son's death, but after I'd moved through that particular dark corridor of grief, I've found continued comfort, even joy, in drawing and painting. I have been writing all my life, but I am savoring my growing ability to express myself without words.


3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

Like most of us, I live surrounded by towering heaps of Next Books. I read a lot of social history, many cookbooks, some poetry. Since my son Hunter was killed, I have been reading books that were his favorites. A few of these (Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Yann Martel's The Life of Pi, and Steigg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) were in Hunter's possession when he died. Others were books he'd mentioned especially liking. One of these is Moon Palace, by Paul Auster. I understand with intense clarity why Hunter enjoyed Auster's work, and even see aspects of him in many of Auster's characters. I am working my way, with bittersweet pleasure, through all Auster has written.


4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I was born and grew up in El Paso, Texas, which was and remains geographically and culturally isolated from the rest of Texas. This yielded a rich, specific kind of self-starting creative community, and taught me to see myself more as a maker than as a consumer. Since 1993, Seattle has been home. This is a beautiful city. Seattleites love, support, and frequent our public libraries, parks, beaches, and book stores. More than anywhere I've lived or visited, Seattle offers residents both prospect and refuge, and this, to me, comes with the responsibility to protect all of our citizens. The last ten years have brought enormous changes to the constituency of our business community and to our built environment. We face significant challenges – issues of homelessness, addiction, and disenfranchisement. I hope A House on Stilts can contribute to Seattle's response to these issues, and that reading it will encourage compassion.


5. The UI Press is turning 50 this year! Share with us a bit about your experience and relationship with the press.

I feel so fortunate that University of Iowa Press has given A House on Stilts its home. This is the third of my four books with university press affiliation: University of Washington Press distributed my first book, Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington's First World's Fair, and published my third, Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I. I am a great believer in the power university presses hold to further deep dialogue by taking on worthy projects that may not offer obvious financial promise to a commercial press. I've found every person at University of Iowa Press to be warm, kind, and steadfastly professional. I am proud to call myself a University of Iowa Press author.

Thank you Paula!


Paula Becker will be reading from A House on Stilts at the Iowa City Public Library on October 5th at 1:00pm for the Iowa City Book Festival. Come hear her read in person!


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