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A Conversation with Ginnah Howard

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What led you to become a writer after years of being a teacher?

I came to writing by chance in my late 40’s. The New York State English Bureau began to press all teachers to actively write with their students: how could you teach something that you didn’t do yourself? I remember writing my first short story as part of an assignment I’d given one of my senior classes. After a weekend of struggling to put into fictional scenes the experience of seeing a boy have an epileptic seizure on the playground when I was a sixth grader, I said to my class, “Wow, writing a story is hard isn’t it?”

I was further encouraged by having a poet conduct a workshop in my class for a few days that same year. He insisted I write along with the group. I wrote a love poem about my fear of walking along the rocks, the sheer drop to the sea, at Montauk Point. The poet wrote, “You make it new!” across the top of my paper. That was my beginning.

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< ... The beginning of the conversation


But surely the most important factor in my becoming a writer was the gift of time I was given when both my children went away from home for the first time. I believe that blank time and liking to be alone may be the main ingredients for pursuing any art. When I was a child, at some point, I always left the neighborhood play to go off to my room to be by myself. I had one particular game I liked. I drew the interior of a house. I added broken windows and sagging furniture. Next I drew the people, their hair uncombed, their clothes torn. A scrawny cat and a bony dog. Then I pretended some good fortune had come to this poor family. I turned the paper over and traced the outlines from the other side, only this time I made the roof beam straight. I put ruffled curtains on the windows and logs burning in the fireplace. I repaired the popping springs. The mother’s apron became clean, the daughter’s hair curly. I played this game many afternoons sitting on my bed in the attic. For me writing fiction is very much like that childhood experience. In my writing I am both the one making the house and the characters being transformed.

Being able to spend time alone, to mull, to enter the fictional world, is especially helpful in writing a novel. It’s a long trip and if the bus is a local, stopping twenty times a day, one loses the blurry belief that there’s a final destination.

The conversation concludes ... >



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