Whitney Hayes, a current MFA student at Chatham University, asked me a few questions about IAB for the program’s newsletter.
An Interview with Beth Gilstrap
Author Beth Gilstrap
Beth Gilstrap, a Chatham alumna who graduated in May 2012 has just had a short story collection published through Twelve Winters Press called I Am Barbarella. In the following brief interview, she talks about these stories, as well as her time at Chatham and what she’s doing now.
Q: Could you talk about what your experience at Chatham was like as a low-res student?
A: I was originally supposed to attend the on the ground MFA program. I was heartbroken when my husband and I were unable to sell our home and move to Pittsburgh. I was lucky they allowed me to switch to the low-res program so I could still earn my MFA. I always wished I’d had the opportunity to participate in events and become part of the close-knit community that happened on the ground. It is difficult to feel part of things from a distance; however; the ten day residencies were where I met some of my closest friends and colleagues.
Q: Could you talk about the types of stories ‘I Am Barbarella’ contains?
A: The short answer is they are gritty character-driven stories of the modern South. These are characters at the fringes of society –working-class characters who tend toward self-destruction, failure, and loneliness. Many of the stories take place in Charlotte, North Carolina –a place people rarely end up on purpose. These characters aren’t bankers or old money, nor entirely belles or rednecks, but some kind of poetry in between, always stumbling, and trying to survive. These are, I hope, redemption stories –stories about how people press on and reinvent themselves in a time when textile manufacturing is dead and most of their friends and family have long since moved on.
Q: How long would you guess that you worked on this collection before you sought publication?
A: From the time I wrote the first draft of the first story until I turned in the final edits to the publisher, it was four and a half years.
Q: Also, I hear that you just took on the role of Editor-in-Chief for Atticus Review. Do you have any quick tips or advice for current MFA students on pursuing careers after graduation?
A: Don’t give up. Ever. There will be times (for me it’s constant) when you doubt your abilities, your will, and your backbone. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep writing. Finish your projects even if they aren’t great. Prepare yourself for writing lulls because they will come. Know that it’s part of the process and you aren’t broken. Whatever it is that drives you to write is still there. When you find yourself in that crappy phase, do what a close friend (and fiction editor of Atticus Review) says: hunt and gather. Feed your brain. Read. Experience other art forms. Walk. Travel. And if you haven’t already, go read for a literary magazine. My time working for Fourth River and now Atticus Review has been invaluable. Literary magazine work helps give me perspective about my own work and the field as a whole and you get to help put someone else’s art into the world.