Untold Story # 12: NJ Writer Victoria Livingstone.

(Her)oics is available at the publisher site (Regal House Publishing, imprint Pact Press), your local bookstore and online retailers. It is getting a very warm reception. Our events have been uplifting, warm gatherings with writers offering their beautiful stories and audiences around the country receiving them kindly. See this page for details on all upcoming events including the next one, April 1st (This Thursday!) Pandemic Mothering. We have six wonderful mothers-who-write (or should I say writers who mother?) coming to share excerpts of their essays. Please see details here, or register for the Zoom link now, here.

Victoria Livingstone, Ashley Gordon and Lori Jakielo all have interviews on this blog, and will all be reading on April 1. We also have Janet Johnson, Maria Ostrowski, and Ashley Espinoza.

What made you decide to write your essay, Azalea?

I wrote this piece when my daughter was six months old. Becoming a mother gave me the courage to return to creative writing after many years of focusing on scholarship. While academic writing is not easy, it always felt safer and more predictable. I recently wrote an essay on ideas about productivity and my shift back to creative work, which was published in Literary Mama. That essay and the one in (Her)oics are intimately connected, as the anthology gave me confidence to continue writing.

Has the experience of being in the anthology made an impact in your experience of the pandemic?

Absolutely. This publication has encouraged me to keep writing creative non-fiction.  (Her)oics has also put me in touch with some incredible creative women, those with work in this anthology as well as writers in the broader community.

What are a few of your favorite essay or memoir writers? Why or what do you love about their work? 

I have read all of Mary Karr’s memoirs– her writing has an incredible energy to it. I think she’s incapable of writing an unoriginal sentence. I also find myself often thinking about a memoir by journalist David Carr, who researched his own life in order to try to narrate as objectively as possible. And lately I’ve been reading Leslie Jamison, whose work really resonates with me.

Oh I love Leslie Jamison’s work as well, and of course Mary Karr is a master. What is your writing life like? Do you write during the day, after work, etc.?

I write in fragments in my daughter’s nursery. It is incredibly difficult to find time as I have a demanding full-time job and no childcare (we pulled my daughter out of daycare at the start of the pandemic). My husband is very supportive, and it’s only because we share childcare and domestic work equally that I am ever able to write. Still, I am exhausted all the time and it’s not easy.

What are three things that got you through the pandemic?

Writing, exchanging ideas with my partner (who writes fiction), and walking. Walking is the subject of my next essay.

I think writing and walking are inextricably tied for many of us. As you know, I love your essay. Can you imagine this piece developing into a larger work? 

Yes, I’ve found myself writing a lot about motherhood and transformation. I imagine expanding this essay to include it in an essay collection.

In your essay you write about being an educator. Are you still teaching online? How do you think that has shaped your students experience? What do you miss or not about In person?

Yes, I teach at a university in Newark, NJ, a city particularly hard hit by COVID. At one point, one in five residents screened for the virus tested positive. I work primarily with international students, and some of them were separated from their families at the start of the pandemic. One returned to Vietnam and got stuck in the Hong Kong airport for two weeks on his way home. Some stayed here and were targets of racism. Many lost loved ones. A year later, my students are still struggling. They feel isolated. The pandemic is really taking a toll on young people. Teaching online has been effective in strict academic terms, but I do miss the in-person interaction. At the same time, working from home has been wonderful for me, since it let me be present for all of my daughter’s first-year milestones. I sometimes feel guilty for my good fortune when there is so much suffering around me.

Thanks for your time Victoria! I will see you this Thursday, April 1 at 4 Pm/ 7 Pm for our event, Mothering in the Pandemic. 

 Victoria Livingstone’s poetry, essays, and translations have appeared in The Cafe Review, Seneca Review, Asymptote, Literary Mama, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She is the translator of Song from the Underworld, a book of contemporary Maya poetry by Pablo García. She holds a doctorate in Latin American literature and currently teaches in the Humanities Department at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Find More of Victoria’s writing on her website.