Interview with Shaun Turner


What is a current project you are working on?

I’ve been reading a lot of Bell Hooks and Wendell Berry. I’m currently working on a series of poems about the Appalachian diaspora, thinking about how communities lose their populations and identities in the name of jobs and progress.

What is the piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?

When I first started writing seriously, I had a tendency to overwrite description. One of my undergraduate creative writing professors, Derek Nikitas, once told me this: Don’t describe everything in two ways. It’s a part of editing to pick the stronger image or metaphor unless one has a good reason for it. Another great piece of advice from my graduate mentor, Glenn Taylor, was to always be pay care that one’s words be as specific as possible: that there is a difference between a fishing rod and a fishing pole.

What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?

I’m in inspired by the so many writers and poets. Ron Rash, Amy Hempel, Jim Wayne Miller, and Flannery O’Connor are foundational to me, but they’re just a few.

How did you manage to so perfectly illustrate a Kroger in “Shopping Habits”? How did this piece come about? 

Grocery stores are designed to be interesting, to sell something. They’re also very decentering places: unnatural lighting and no windows, no clocks. I try to use sparse language to lead the reader toward the narrative in this non-narrative commercial space.

I certainly felt some sort of psychic energy at the grocery stores. I’d write in my car after I shopped, these scenes from shopping.

There’s something uniquely interesting about grocery shopping, that it is a place where we go to find food, something so personal. I feel like people are their more private self in this public place.

Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?

This is very hard. I’m going to have to go with two:

Jazz by Toni Morrison. It’s a lyric and beautiful book that paints so interestingly with perspective. I read it for the first time when I was 13, and it blew my mind.

Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge, or any of her work are also must-reads for me. Not only are they a time capsule of a certain Southern way of life, but her outsider perspective on the world around her and her sureness of voice and narrative detail are masterful.