An Interview with Kristen Witucki

Kristen Witucki is a very well-educated writer (she has several Master’s degrees), a teacher, and a mother (her two boys are simply precious!) who leads a busy and active life. Kristen and I became acquainted when I joined Literary Mama in 2014; her profile of Jenn Crowell was one of the first pieces I ever touched. Since that time, Kristen and I have kept in touch, mostly via social media and email. It’s been a pleasure watching her dreams come to fruition over the past two years with the publication of two books: The Transcriber, and Outside Myself, which just launched last week! Kristen’s writing has also been featured in Brain, Child, the Momoir Project, HuffPost, Underwater New York, and elsewhere. I am thrilled that Kristen took some time to answer a few of my questions.

Christina: You’re both a teacher and a writer. Have you always wanted to be both and do you find that these two professions complement one another?

Kristen: I’ve always wanted to teach and to write, but I haven’t always done both. I think of teaching and writing as outer and inner manifestations of the same work, to help people understand the world in a way they hadn’t before. But with teaching, I primarily focus outward toward the students, while with writing, I ultimately turn inward.

Teaching was a profession I absorbed early as a student, the way most teachers probably do. I appreciated many teachers as adults who really thought about what they were talking about, who encouraged a life of the mind, and my very best teachers never stopped learning. I wanted to be that sort of beacon for people.

I came to writing early, too. As a child, I used a tape recorder to tell stories and then revise them. When I was twelve, I wrote my first “novel,” really a fortyish-page story, based on my grandmother’s life. In college, however, I compromised between idealism and realism when I majored in English but was working to become a teacher—to me, still a very noble profession—but not an author. You did not “earn your living” as an author; other people did that.

As a senior in college, I had finished my requirements and decided to take a creative writing course. I was surrounded by sophomores who understood a bit earlier that they could be artists, and I had a lot of catching up to do. That spring, Jhumpa Lahiri was the writer in residence and visited our class. She talked about her initial lack of confidence in her writing but explained that writing ultimately centered her and gave her a way to both observe the world and to participate in it. I wish I had thanked her at the time, but that lecture encouraged me to do my graduate work in both teaching and writing.

Now I have two young sons, ages seven and two, and I haven’t formally taught in about three years. But I am the curriculum editor for Learning Ally’s College Success Program. I just earned my certification in teaching students who are blind or visually impaired in New Jersey where I now live, and I’m easing back into teaching now on an extremely part-time basis.

Christina: You’re a busy lady! What inspires you on a daily basis to keep writing?

Kristen: The people I know inspire me, as I work to render my characters as individuals. Literature inspires me; I learn from the authors I love and try to add to the dialogue of books in a very small way compared to many of them. Motherhood also inspires me, even while it also puts logistical challenges into being creative. My older son is beginning to write small books of his own, and I can’t wait until he’s old enough to read the stories I’ve written.

Christina: Your first book, The Transcriber, is part of the Gemma Open Door Series, which “confirm[s] the truth that a story doesn’t have to be big to change ‎the world.” Do you have a plan to take over the world, one story at a time?

Kristen: No, we’ve seen where plans to take over the world have led! The Transcriber was a story I wrote while experiencing some frustration with my novel. Louis’s voice felt so compelling and irreverent to me as I was writing that I had to find out where he was going with it. I felt very fortunate that Trish from GemmaMedia took him on and gave him his own book. I also think that short stories, especially in the miniature book context, do have the power to reach people whom novels don’t always reach. So her small press is helping to change the world by making the art of story accessible to more people. Short fiction is hard for me. I can’t let go of characters very well, and their lives sprawl out before me. Nevertheless I hope to try it again sometime!

Christina: Your latest book, Outside Myself, just launched last week. Congratulations! What inspired you to write the novel?

Kristen: The novel began with a story about a girl who wanted to be cured of blindness, but I didn’t want the real cure—living with blindness—to be the end of her story. So I thought that even though she had settled it, her family could continue to have mixed views of her disability. Then I began to think about the life of her mentor, Benjamin, and how his acceptance of blindness would come about through very different, much tougher circumstances. You can read more about Benjamin and my inspiration in the afterword of the book!

Christina: What is the best piece of advice you can give would-be writers or the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Kristen: My mentor and friend, Joan Silber, advised me to always be working on something, even while wading through the conditions of either waiting or being rejected for publication. I haven’t always followed that advice as well as I could have, but I remember it and try to follow it most of the time.

Christina: If you could be one fictional character for a day, who would you be?
Kristen: Only one? I’d love to be Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables for a day so I could connect with nature in the authentic, emotional way she does! I’d also love to visit Prince Edward Island someday!

Christina: What is something that your readers don’t know about you but that you’d like for them to know?

Kristen: The very first book about disability I loved was actually not fiction but an autobiography, Little by Little: A Writer’s Education by Jean Little. I was almost twelve and was going through a very tough time with bullying at school, and her portrayal of kids making fun of her caused me to pay attention. I’ve read that book many times now.

Thanks to Kristen for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.

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