M.E. Hughes has guided and edited a small army of writers since receiving her MFA in creative writing from Bennington College in 1986. The joy of experiencing the thriving artistic community that existed at Bennington at that time, under the leadership of Nicolas Delbanco and the late Richard Elman, led her to start her own summer writing program, the nonprofit Peripatetic Writing Workshop, Inc. in 1991. The Peripatetic meets each winter and summer and lives up to its name by meeting in the United States and abroad, to date in Sicily and Italy, Guatemala and Ireland. She has taught creative writing at New York University for many years and is also a freelance book doctor/editor. She has published two nonfiction books and the novel, Precious In HIs Sight (Viking Penguin).
A native of New Orleans, Hughes grew up in New Iberia in the heart of Cajun country.
You can read "Isolation" by M. E. Hughes in Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts
"I think workshops help one see the 'holes' in one's work. Colleagues in a workshop make you see that some things you were sure you had written down are not there at all."
Note: Even though in the photo she's wearing one hat, M. E. Hughes wore two for Letting Go.. She's both the editor of the anthology and a contributing author. This interview asked her questions about both roles.
As an Editor . . .
What inspired you to do this book?
How long did it take to create it?
I had the idea as long ago as 2000; almost got going in 2007; and finally in 2015, realized life was not infinite, so I'd better get cracking.
How did you come up with the title?
It came out of my own frustration with myself, i.e., Why couldn't I let go of all this stuff? I continually asked myself.
Why did you choose this cover?
I wanted a cartoonish man/woman figure, rather like a New Yorker cover, so I thought of potato man. He/she is stepping off a cliff, but peeking through fingers in fear mixed with excitement and anticipation, which is what it feels like to let go. It's humorous, as the human condition is messy and comedic.
What was the hardest part of creating the anthology?
Keeping track of 30 writers and their rewrites. This is one thing that felt easier in the days of typewriters and hard copies. I sometimes thought the top of my head, or my computer, would explode from trying to keep track of the latest versions.
What did you learn from creating Letting Go?
I saw once again how many astonishingly good writers I have worked with. And, from the obvious pleasure the writers have shown since the anthology came out, I am reminded that writing is one of the most thrilling accomplishments one can have. Also, I learned via the efforts of our publisher at Bacon Press Books how invaluable the Internet is for promoting one's book or project.
What are the benefits the book offers to readers?
People carry a lot of baggage throughout life. The older one gets, the more baggage one carries. Despite wanting to jettison a lot of worn-out ideas about ourselves, anger, fears, or maybe simply old clothes or jewelry or books and papers, we all hold on to things and people and ideas much longer than we should. It is hard to let go, as comfort often comes from the familiar. So, in answer to the question, it is informative and helpful to learn what others go through in their effort to change, to let go.
As a Writer . . .
As a fiction writer, is it harder to write nonfiction?
No; nonfiction is easier; it's about truth, reality. Literary fiction is much harder. It reveals truth and reality, too, but to make living, breathing characters, you give away much more of yourself than you perhaps intend to.
What's the hardest part about writing for you?
Getting started. Staring at a blank piece of paper. Once I've started, I feel safer.
Do Workshops help one become a better writer?
I think workshops help one see the "holes" in one's work. Colleagues in a workshop make you see that some things you were sure you had written down are not there at all.
Secret rituals to get started each day?
Washing dishes, cooking, anything to distract myself from the anxiety of starting.
Writers who help you write?
Kafka, definitely. He always gives me permission to write freely, without worry that my thoughts are weird. They are. He was. But look how long his work has lasted. I'd like to say Henry James, but he makes me write too-long sentences.
Who do you trust to read your work while in progress?
Almost no one. I would never give my work to family members or close friends. It puts them in a terrible position. They can't be honest, for fear of hurting your feelings, so why do it?
Do you have any advice for other writers?
What do you enjoy most about writing?
The feeling of joy that comes on a day when I have written well. It does not often happen, but when it does, it is like nothing else.
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