Transmit Culture: Local Authors on the Life of a Writer

An intimate gathering of aspiring writers and graduate students attended Portland State of Mind’s Transmit Culture: Writers at Work lecture series on October 18. The moderated conversation on balancing professional lives with artistic writing pursuits had a diverse set of panelists including a poet, a short story writer, and a nonfiction writer. The three authors—Kait Heacock, Michael Heald, and David Biespiel—each spoke on their unique experiences as published authors. And while each of these authors varied in backgrounds and genres, each panelist connected through their shared disciplines of what it takes to be a writer while working in the publishing industry.
Kait Heacock, a fiction writer and Ooligan Press alumni, shared her experience writing Siblings and Other Disappointments while working as a publicist at the Feminist Press in New York City. Heacock spoke about being inspired by her colleagues in New York and how working at the Feminist Press pushed her as a writer. She built on this by sharing the benefits of being an author working in the publishing industry, saying, “Working in publishing has given me an insider’s perspective on writing, which has made me a more knowledgeable author.”
The second panelist was nonfiction author and publishing house owner Michael Heald, who wrote Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension. Heald’s clear passion for running his press became apparent even as he discussed the amount of work it takes to profit on the books he publishes. This led into Heald explaining how working as a publisher informs his writing, saying, “I feel as connected to the books at Perfect Day as the authors do. It’s like having this great long distance friendship.”
David Biespiel is a poet who has authored numerous books, with his most recent work being a collection of essays titled A Long High Whistle. Biespiel approached the conversation as an educator, telling the crowd about his inspiring experiences running a literary studio called Attic Institute of Arts and Letters that he started in 1999. But when Biespiel discussed how he approaches his own writing, it was clear that his pursuits as a writer stem from his inquisitive nature to learn. Of his writing, Biespiel said, “I have no idea what I want to say, but I have questions I want to answer, and my writing is my attempt to answer those questions.”
Writers at Work provided its audience a fantastic glance at the intimate details of three writers who also function in the literary world as professionals. When asked how these busy writers find time to actually write outside of work, Heacock was quick to answer by saying, “Writing is the most natural thing for me, so I structure it like work. I need structure, so I schedule it like work.” This sentiment was echoed by Heald and Biespiel, who agreed that writing demands specific attention and dedication in order to succeed.

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