Glenda: I notice that you have enjoyed the friendship of some great literary men including Terry Kay and the late poet, Jim Wayne Miller. Fred Chappell wrote the introduction to Back to Abnormal. How did these friendships develop and how have they affected your writing life and personal life?
Dana: Well, I’m friends with women writers, too, of course, and just as with the men, I’ve met them through writer events: workshops, conferences, and the like. I’ve found that one of the wonderful perks to becoming engaged in the practice of writing is the way it gains you entry in a new community, the community of writers. In the South, that community tends to be unfailingly inclusive and generous, so when I asked Fred if he’d write an intro for Back to Abnormal (it being every book-writers’ goal to splash known and attention-getting names across your book), he said, “Why sure, darlin’.” Fred is also my number one pen pal. We’ve exchanged letters twice a month or so for twenty years. Letter writing, by the way, I would recommend as possibly the very best writing exercise. Terry Kay lives just down the road from me so we see each other often. I admire his writing boundlessly and recommend To Dance with the White Dog as a book everyone should read, especially every southerner. And Jim Wayne was my writing mentor, if I have one. He sought me out, writing a letter to me about some of my poems and encouraging my writing in very specific ways. There is no way I could ever repay the debt I owe him, but keeping his name alive through references to him in my own writing is the one way I have of trying.
Glenda: I love that you write so much about your dogs. Max and Fred were subjects of a poem that you said most non-writers really like. It is one of the first of your poems that I fell in love with. Can you tell us about that poem and why it is so well liked?
Dana: My poem “Peopling” always makes people laugh because it first surprises them and then they think to themselves, Yes, that’s so true. Those two reactions back-to-back are the heart of humor. And all of us need more satisfying humor in our lives.
Glenda: Your ESL (English as a second language) students call you Teacher instead of calling you by name. You were not pleased, at first, but tell us what you learned that made you feel much better about being called Teacher.
Dana: As I have written in Back to Abnormal, I at first found it a little off-putting when my ESL students called me Teacher because it sounded so formal and distant. Then I discovered that in just about every part of the globe except the US, to call someone Teacher is the highest honorific. Now I love it. I have come to realize, also, that my experience with coming to an understanding of the depths of meaning contained in that title, could stand as example of the depths of meaning that should be written into our stories and poems. To learn how to get to the root of our world knowledge is perhaps the primary key to producing writing that will resonate with a large audience.
Thanks for your time, Dana. We look forward to your coming to our area to teach at Writers Circle and to read at Writers Night Out."
For details of Dana's class at Writers Circle, click here.