An interview with Erin Emily Ann Vance

Erin Emily Ann Vance’s work is forthcoming in Coffin Bell Journal, Augur, Post Ghost Press, and Bad Nudes. She is a contributing reader and writer for Awkward Mermaid Literary Magazine. A 2017 recipient of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize and a 2018 Finalist for the Alberta Magazine Awards in Fiction, she completed her MA in Creative Writing in August 2018, and will complete an MA in Folklore in 2020. Erin's debut novel, Advice for Amateur Beekeepers and Taxidermists will be published by Stonehouse Publishing in 2019.

How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?

I started writing as a child. My parents were readers and my father is a songwriter, so I had plenty of inspiration and encouragement. One of my fondest memories is coming home from school to dozens of books laid out on my bed- my mother would go to the thrift store every so often and load up on books for me and my brother to read, and leave them on our beds for us to find. My grandmother lived with us growing up, and she was also a voracious reader. I think that seeing the people I loved surrounded by books and finding joy in those books motivated me to write and try and spark some of that joy.

I think what keeps me going is seeing how much incredible work is produced every day and wanting (selfishly) to be a part of that! I find it hard to fall in love with a novel or poem and not be compelled to write afterwards.

Your author biography mentions a novel forthcoming this year. Are you able to work on poetry at all during the composition of a novel? How are you able to keep the two separate?

I almost always write poetry and prose simultaneously. In my third year of university I took two full-year creative writing classes in poetry and fiction. I spent a year negotiating between the two genres. It was such an incredible (and challenging) experience; I had classes until 9pm, sometimes 10pm Tuesday and Wednesday for an entire year. I wrote so much in that year that I couldn't help but grow and adapt. Since then, my writing has become more hybrid (my novel has poetry interspersed with the prose), and I've come to use different genres as a sort of 'reset' button. Stuck on the novel? Write a poem. Stuck on the poetry manuscript? Write a short story. Writing poetry makes me a better fiction writer, so I can't imagine writing one without dipping my toes in the other periodically.

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

There are scores of poets who I admire and return to over and over. Right now I am obsessed with Sonya Vatomsky's collection Salt is for Curing and the work of Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa. I found that, while studying at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Belfast this past summer, that the culture around poetry I grew up in was very much anti-sentimentality, anti-feelings, anti-cheesiness. I absolutely think that overly sentimental writing can be weak and overwrought, but it doesn't have to be. A lot of the Irish poetry I've read leaves hints of sentimentality and emotion in, and the work remains strong and poignant. Ní Ghríofa's teaching and her work gave me permission, in a way, to write about my feelings unabashedly for the first time in years.

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

This question always leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy. I've been SO fortunate in terms of mentorship. Judith Williams has been a mentor of mine since I was about twelve years old. She has been a rock, a cheerleader, and an incredible support in my life for years. I owe so much to her. I had the opportunity to work with Sheri D Wilson when I was younger and learned so much from the Mama of Dada. She taught me fierceness and courage. Lisa Murphy Lamb met me when I was fifteen and the fact that she put up with my ridiculous teenage antics at summer camp and became a strong mentor to me is proof of how dedicated to enriching the lives of young writers she is. Sandy Pool was instrumental in helping me find my voice, and Aritha van Herk changed my life, taught me to have a thick skin, and her classes were nothing short of fundamental in my development as a writer. Suzette Mayr is my masters supervisor and has helped me through procrastination, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome. I could talk about these women for hours, and they deserve every accolade. In 2019, I will be engaging in my first formal mentorship under the guidance of Kimmy Beach with the Writers Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program. I look forward to this greatly.

What are you currently working on?

I JUST finished my masters thesis, which was a novel about a young, isolated woman who has epilepsy and falls pregnant. It's a ghost story and is very close to my heart as I also have epilepsy. I'm also working on polishing my novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers, set to be released next year. I just finished a chapbook, The Sorceress who Left Too Soon: Poems After Remedios Varo and will be working on a follow-up chapbook of poems after Leonora Carrington. In addition, I'm working on a full-length poetry collection and a short story collection. In July my partner and I are moving to Dublin so that I can pursue folklore studies at University College Dublin, and I'm excited to see how my studies in Dublin influence my writing.

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

I discovered Sandra Kasturi's books Come Late to the Love of Birds and The Animal Bridegroom this past summer. I devoured both books and Kasturi has since become one of my biggest literary influences. I think she should be read more widely as she is doing interesting, important work that is unique and exciting.

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